Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Just worry about yourself.

Image result for life is not fair

We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

bear burdens

The community of faith is one of the greatest blessings God has given us in the local Church.  We meet for weekly worship, we gather for Bible study and community, and we rally around one another in the midst of a crisis or life change.  Meal trains are established after surgeries and babies, and those most intimate communities pull together finances for one another when a sudden need or trauma arises.

We bear one another’s burdens.  
Or at least we should.

But have you ever stopped to consider the context of that commandment in Scripture?  Where Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens?

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load.”

– Gal 6.1-5

It is good and right that we know one another well enough and that we care for each other enough to help meet needs and comfort one another during times of difficulty and suffering.  God is a God of comfort, and He gives us one another to help ease some of our momentary suffering (2 Cor 1.3).  He loves His Church, we are His bride, and we are commanded to look out for the needs of those within our local body first.  Before we seek to meet the needs of those outside of our body and the unsaved:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

– Gal 6.9-10

This is not permission to overlook anyone, we are indeed commanded to take go the extra mile for anyone who would take advantage of us, to love our enemies, to meet the needs of the poor (within and without of the Church), but just as Christ’s first priority is the Church, so should our’s be.

The context of this specific command, which we so regularly quote, however, is to bear one another’s burdens of sin.  John Piper eloquently teaches us,

“A sinful act is vastly more harmful that any…other burden, and if [we] love them, [we] will not only comfort them in their troubles, but confront them in their sin.”

For most of us it is easy to go visit someone in the hospital and take meals to a family who is struggling or expending their energy taking care of a sick family member.  For many of us it is easy to listen, offer a hug, and to console someone who is suffering a loss of some sort.  But not everyone in the Church who is bearing a burden is a victim.  Some people are bearing the consequences of their sin.  Some people are stuck in an habitual sin.  And sin is the most dangerous burden, and that from which we should be most intensely seeking to help one another escape.

Scripture is clear that if we continue in sin after confessing Jesus as our Lord, there is no hope for us.  This is a terrifying situation:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

Therefore, if we have been commanded to do good and to take care of the body of the Church first, and if the greatest threat to our well being is sin, then we must be diligent about confronting our own sin and holding one another accountable.  It is the greatest act of love – from a fellow Christian – to help me in my sanctification process and to conquer a sin.  We should never just write a brother off, we should never simply react to one another’s sin, we should never refrain from saying anything out of fear, or because “it’s just not my business”.  It is your business.  It is my business.

Is someone in your community stuck in a sin, or blind to a sin in his life?  It is your responsibility to humbly, in love, help bear that burden.  And when someone approaches you to confront a sin to which you are blind or needing help to conquer, remember that this is the greatest act of love a fellow Christian can give you.  He is looking out for your soul and eternal well being.  Let us embrace accountability and community.  Let us press one another on to good works and maturity.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

– Heb 10.23-24

 

Keep fervent in your love

community1

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

Perhaps the most direct and difficult commandments of the Bible have to do with love.  The Old Testament Law is written on the foundation of loving God with all of our hearts, minds and strength (Deut 6.5, Matt 22.37).  And beyond that, Jesus commands us to love one another in the same way we love ourselves.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– Matt 22.39

Scripture gives us a wide array of teachings on love, to help us understand how exactly we can (and should) love one another as ourselves.  Most of us give ourselves a lot of leeway and grace.  Did you overreact in that situation, did you indulge that pesky sin?  Have you allowed an aspect of your personality to get overgrown or annoying?  Are you so far down the path of rebellion, pride or ego that you cannot even see it anymore?

Insomuch as we feed our own indulgences and make allowances for putting our feet in our mouths, or “slipping up”, we should give grace to one another when our friends, neighbors or acquaintances when they put their feet in their mouths, slip up, or engage in that particularly annoying habit.  We must be fervent in our love for one another and let love cover a multitude of sins.

There are times when we must confront ourselves in our own sin and when we must confront one another.  The most loving thing we can do for ourselves and others is to seek Spiritual well being, and if I have a blind spot in my life, I need others to point it out.  If you have a blind spot in your life, it is necessary for your friends to point it out to you.  If someone in your life is continually practicing a sin, it is your God-given responsibility hold them accountable and help them grown and mature.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

– Gal 6.1-2

When we confront sin in someone else, we must also be mindful of ourselves and our own sin.  None of us will ever be perfect and without sin, therefore it will always be sinful people confronting other sinful people.  We often shy away from that confrontation asking ourselves, “Who am I to call him out?” considering our own tendencies and sinfulness to be grounds of disqualification for holding others accountable.  But Scripture is clear:  we must hold one another accountable and all the while considering our own tendencies so that we will not be tempted too.  We are gentle, understanding and compassionate in our efforts because we, too, fall into temptation so easily.

Love.  This is the outworking and the fruit of love, to push one another on to holiness.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

– 1 Cor 13.1-3

Without love we are nothing.  We can preform great acts and accomplish much, but unless we are rooted in and driven by the love of God, we are nothing.

Do you love God today?  Do you love your neighbor?  No one has to teach us how to love ourselves; we are constantly seeking our own best and our own interests.  But let us consider that measure by which we love ourselves and examine if that is the same measure by which we love one another.  Cover a multitude of sins.  Seek one another’s best interests.  Hold one another accountable.  Be humble.  And make allowance for one another.

When they don’t apologize

community

God has created us to live in community.  He gave us spouses in marriage, He gave us children in family units, He gave us neighbors to serve, He gave us the Church to love, and He gave us Himself from whom we draw all strength.  We all function in a variety of relationships, and when two sinners are in community there will be conflict, misunderstanding and hurt at some point.  Sometimes the offense is gross and must be dealt with through the normal means of confrontation, confession and forgiveness.  But what about those little things?  What about a miscommunication?  Must everything be addresses formally?

Scripture is exceedingly clear:  We, as spouses, as families, as community and as the Church must strive to live together in peace.  Our primary goal within the body is unity and peace.

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

– Phil 2.1-2

“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”

– 1 Peter 3.8-9

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

And if someone has sinned, we are commanded to call him to repentance for the sake of His soul.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

– Gal 6.1

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.15-17

But what about that person who has not sinned, but has hurt our feelings?  What about when two people with good motives have a miscommunication?  What about those things that are merely preference or relational?

If our goal is peace and unity, then there will certainly be times that we must confront one another, even over relational issues.  But there will also be times that we simply let it go.  Scripture teaches us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  Some of us have hyper-sensitive consciences and beat ourselves up over every little word that we say.  But for the most part we are experts of excuses.  We can overlook our idiosyncrasies masterfully and often are blind to them.  Do you love your spouse that much?  To overlook his quirks that annoy you or step on your toes?  Scripture also teaches us that we should strive to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12.10).  If your brother, friend or fellow church member unknowingly offended you or said something in an abrasive manner, is it your heart’s response to seek to honor him all the more?  Are you in competition with him to see who can love and respect the other better?

Paul sums it up beautifully:

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

– Eph 4.1-3

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

– Col 3.12-13

In these two letters, Paul encourages the believers to show tolerance for one another in love, and to bear with one another.  These commands are separate and unique from forgiving one another, as he defines in his letter to the Colossians – that forgiveness requires a complaint against one another – assuming an offense associated with sin.  We ought not, for the sake of our souls, sweep sin under the rug.  If someone has sinned and we bore it witness, then we must call one another to repentance.  The Holy Spirit has been given to us for the purpose of recognizing sin:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

The Holy Spirit within us will convict us of our own sin, but also the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I might have a blind spot in my life that I need my spouse or small group to point out, and if it is our goal as believers to be more Christlike, then this is a glorious and beautiful part of our community:  pushing one another on to holiness.

But there will also be times that I will rub someone the wrong way.  We have cultural microcosms within the greater culture of the United States, and northerners are known to be more direct and blunt while southerners are known to be more soft and relational.  These two cultures will undoubtedly misunderstand one another relationally and professionally when forced to interact.  Thus we are commanded to “bear with one another” and “show tolerance for one another in love”.  Most of these offenses will be completely one sided.  Since there is not sin factor at play, one party in relationship might find another annoying, or misunderstand the meaning or intention of another, but these are the types of quirks that can be overlooked or tolerated.

So what do we do?  How do we ford these relational waters?  In the spirit of unity and peace, we must consider one another better than ourselves and humbly examine the situation:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

When we die to ourselves and consider the other person, we ask these kinds of questions:  What happened?  Why am I hurt or upset?  Did he intend to offend me?  What is going on in his life that caused him to do or say what he did?  Did I offend him?

If we conclude that there is no sin that needs to be addressed in the situation, then we must ask ourselves, “Can I get over this?  Or do I need to talk it out?”  Some people need to talk things out to have resolution and closure.  Some people can bear with one another by extending a measure of grace and letting it go.  This is where we must know ourselves.  If you will become embittered against someone’s personality, then approach your brother in Christ and discuss what happened.  Do not let the spirit of bitterness take root in your life:

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…”

– Heb 12.15

Let us seek, therefore, to put one another first; to consider their needs, their personalities, their life circumstances.  Let us seek to grow in maturity and understand our own personalities:  do I need to talk through day-to-day miscommunications?  Or am I able to let things go without growing bitter?  Let us remember the command of Christ to die to ourselves, to be humble, to love our neighbor in the same manner that we love ourselves, and to outdo one another in showing honor.  Make it a friendly competition – in sincerity and love!  Challenge yourself!  How can I honor so-and-so today?  How can I push my spouse on to holiness?  How can I love my community in such a way that is selfless?  What quirks do I need to bear and tolerate?  And what quirks do we need to address for the sake of unity?

We do not always have to formally address every situation.  Sometimes we just love someone for who they are, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

When life gets messy.

High speed image of splashing milk

When God calls us to salvation, He places us perfectly within His body:  the Church.  We are all given strengths and abilities to help the church thrive, to maintain health, to reach the world and to make disciples.  The Church needs every member and every member needs the Church.

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.12-20

This is the beautiful and unique form of community with which God has blessed the Church.  In short, we get in each other’s lives and we “do life” together.  But do you know what happens when you get in other people’s lives?  It gets messy.  No Christian has attained perfection and the fullest maturity until he is freed from his earthly body, and that means that people are going to be misunderstood, people are going to be offended, and there will be conflict.  Even within the Church.  ::gasp::  If you’re not getting messy, you are not doing it right.

But let us not despair about this fact.  This is actually our opportunity to first of all glorify God in how we respond.  If Jesus is our example, let us remember that He was the only person to walk the face of this Earth without sin, and He was despised, mocked, tortured and murdered.  He endured all of this without lashing out, but with forgiveness and grace, even praying for God to show forgiveness to those who were in the act of murdering Him.  Can you imagine?  We often times need space and time to cool our emotions, but Jesus, in the midst of His own murder, was able to show selflessness and mercy.  In the same way that He loved and forgave us, we must love and forgive one another.  Otherwise we elevate ourselves and our offense above what Jesus endured on the cross.

Secondly, this gives us an opportunity to grow in maturity.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

– James 1.2-3

I particularly love this passage out of James because he speaks directly to “various trials”, not simply persecution for the Gospel’s sake.  Various trials can be our cars breaking down, a difficult child, a tension at the church or persevering through an illness.  All of these various trials are tests of our faith.  How do we respond?  Do we get angry and selfish?  Or do we turn to God and die to ourselves?  Are we humble or are we proud?  When we persevere through the testing of our faith we achieve endurance.  And Romans tells us that,

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

We will not have proven character until we persevere through the mess of relationships and come out victorious on the other side.  We will not have true, Biblical hope until we persevere through trials that test our faith.  If we do not persevere and glorify God by dying to ourselves and following Christ’s example in day-to-day trials, we will be tossed around like the waves of the sea and depend on our circumstances for happiness (James 1.6).

Thirdly, these situations give us an opportunity to express the Gospel to others in the Church and to a lost world.  We will all have conflict.  But consider this:  we are all familiar with the terrible and ongoing “worship war” that is present in many churches.  Everyone wants his own style of music.  For some the music is too loud, for some it is too soft, for some it is not played skillfully enough, and for some the style is just unbearable.  Consider a person who has never come to the church before and who has never heard hymns, contemporary praise, quartet or even Christian rock music.  Everything, to him, is new.  He can have two polar opposite experiences determined by the church-goer by whom he sits.  The church goer can have a bad attitude, choose not to sing, choose to be grumpy – or even wait in the foyer until the music is over before coming in.  The unsaved man will see nothing different from the world here.  What he knows and expects.  Nothing attractive.  And he will probably examine the music with the same mindset.  Now, imagine he sits next to someone who does not necessarily care for the style of music being played, but this person says in his heart, “I want God to be glorified by the music and in my heart.  I am going to sing whatever they choose to sing and praise God!”  He considers his neighbor who loves this music and can best express his heart to God through this style, and he prays, “God help my neighbor meet with you today, and I praise you that these songs are fostering his heart to praise you!”  The lost person will see this as a selfless and humble person who loves God and loves his neighbor, and will see something different.

If the world sees conflict between two believers, if the believers act like the world, then our witness is lost.  But if the believers humble themselves, put one another’s desires and needs above themselves, respect one another and forgive lavishly, then we demonstrate the love and forgiveness that we have been showed in Jesus.  Scripture teaches us that we only love because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).  And Scripture teaches us that we should love and forgive in the same degree by which we are loved and forgiven.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

– Col 3.12-13

Paul teaches us that our attitude towards one another should be, at the foundation, one of humility.  And based on that humility we bear with one another and forgive in the same manner that we have been forgiven.  What does that mean?  If you have come to Jesus for salvation, He has forgiven you of every offense you have ever committed and will ever commit.  In short, there is nothing that another person can do to you that would be worse than your offense against a holy God.  Therefore, if Jesus has forgiven you of everything, then we, by His example, must forgive every offense confessed towards us.

Paul knows, however, that this is not easy and that it goes against our sinful nature.  That is why every single letter that He wrote addressed the topic to some extent.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.  “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Rom 12.9-21

So much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  This does not mean that you have to be buddy-buddy with everyone in the Church.  This also does not mean that you excuse and overlook sin.  Jesus gave us very clear instructions for how to handle a church member who is sinning (Matt 18.15-17), and Paul teaches us that when someone is in sin, we should lovingly restore him and help him fight the sin (Gal 6.1).  We should never overlook sin, but bring it to light and squash it before it takes a foothold in anyone’s life.  This is the truly loving thing to do, to push one another on to maturity and hope.

But humility follows the example of Christ and dies to one’s self.  Humility seeks to glorify God and His gospel by forgiving in the way that He forgave.  Humility serves the body and individuals in the likeness and manner of Christ (Phil 2.3-8).

Life will get messy.  It is in these moments that we must choose to put away our pride, we must choose to seek to glorify God by loving and forgiving as He has loved and forgiven.  We must long for the unity of the body by lifting one another up and resolving conflict, and this will show the world that we are Christians:  by our love (John 13.35).  It is easy to do service projects and humanitarian aid.  It is easy to look happy on Sunday mornings, but a dynamic witness to the world is Christians loving one another when they do not necessarily want to.

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

– 1 Peter 2.19-24

So let us approach community with a realist mindset, knowing that pouring into one another’s lives will bring conflict eventually.  People are people, they will let you down.  But let us embrace those opportunities to press into God, to press into one another, to grow in maturity, and to be a dynamic witness to a lost world.  Let us die to ourselves, put one another first, help one another fight sin in our lives, and thus sharpen one another and be what God intended the church to be:  a body.

Sometimes you do not belong.

outsider

Twice in my life I have lived in big cities where almost everyone is transient.  People are in search of community, people are independent, people are unreliable, but you can always find friends and someone to do something with.  Twice in my life I have moved into communities where almost everyone is home-grown, somehow related to everyone else, they are tight nit and no matter how much they think they like you and no matter how long you live amongst them, you will always be an outsider because you are not blood.  And twice in my life I have lived in foreign cities where I was an outsider by every meaning of the word: language, skin color, values, religion, everything.

There are times in your life when you know you just do not belong.  It’s like that last day each year in college, you have just taken your last final exam, you walk through the dormitory and half of the residents have already packed up and headed home for the summer, you no longer have a reason to be there and you get that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach and you know it is time to go home.  But sometimes it lasts for weeks, or months, or years.  You will never be a native, once you have moved.  And in some places that means nothing, but in other places that means everything.  Relationally, anyway.  We chronically live our lives in cliques and cool kid clubs.

After Jesus returned to Heaven and the early church was planted, there was much persecution and Christians were scattered.  They were forced out of their homes and they had to flee for their lives, settling in foreign communities.  They were outsiders.  They were not blood.  But they were born of the Holy Spirit and had the bond with God of being His child.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

– Eph 2.19-22

Since the Church at large was being persecuted and scattered, the unifying factor for believers was their faith, and no longer blood.  They were one in Christ and found their community and comfort in caring for one another and corporately relying on God.  They were being nit together, formed into a temple for the Holy Spirit.  Often we misunderstand the purpose of the Church and individual faith, considering ourselves to be lone ranger believers who are each a temple of the Holy Spirit.  But we learn here that we, corporately, make the Church and in unity with one another become the temple; the dwelling place for Him.

When we function as the body, we have a place and we belong.  But it is not our ultimate home.

For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

– Heb 13.14

We were saved unto an eternal salvation and will one day be taken “home” to be with the father, forever.  Only there, in our new and glorified bodies will we truly belong.  Only there will we be blood, will we be native, will we be truly at home.  And since we are longing for that eternity, we cannot make peace with our Earthly dwelling.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

– 1 Peter 2.11

We must continually wage war against our sinful flesh.  We must continually fight the fight of being comfortable and lazy and make ourselves aware of the hurting and needy around us.  There are some people in your church who are not blood, who do not belong, and who are hurting and broken.  Skip lunch on Sunday with your cousins and buddies and go love on that hurting and lonely couple.  Tell your crib mate that you will talk to them later and go welcome that visitor and get to know someone new.  But beware the temptation of shallow and transient relationships, too.  We are to function as the body, to hold one another accountable, to be involved in each other’s lives, carrying one another’s burdens and forming the temple for the Holy Spirit.  Let’s break out of our comfort zones, let’s remember that our true home is eternity with Christ, and let’s build the temple of the Holy Spirit by unifying, welcoming, embracing the believers that God puts into our paths.  Let’s break the mold.