For a lot of my life, I was reluctant to commit to and plug into a church. In retrospect, I know it was because of how it might encroach on my time, my comfort, my pocketbook, and mostly my independence. I did not want to be judged, I did not want others peering into or speaking into my life, and I did not want accountability. I wanted to follow Christ and have little to do with His annoying and messy people (never mind the fact that I was and am annoying and messy myself!). I may not have characterized it this way at the time, but looking back I know that my motives were often self-protection, self-interest and plain old selfishness. I wanted to spend my time with people I enjoyed--people who were like me and who were going through the same stages I was experiencing in my life. I used to quickly slip in and out of a church service—so as not to be noticed and not to have to engage with others. I came to consume from the teaching, music, programs, and the occasional event that church had to offer me. I generally did not give of my time to serve others in church. And I mostly kept my church life and social life separate.
After a while, I ended up at a church that solidly preached the Bible and, in doing so, really challenged my noncommittal stance with the church. As I learned more about the Bible, I began to see a glimpse of Christ’s love for His church—which the Bible likens to the fierce and valiant love that a groom has for his bride. At the time, I was preparing for marriage to Kristian, and I was just starting to see the value of an interdependent life, even over an independent one. As God was working in our hearts during our engagement, Kristian and I got more involved in church—volunteering our time, becoming members, starting a Community Group (Bible Study), attending classes, etc.
After we got married, marriage started to shape my view of church. Through our marriage, I was starting to see more of my naturally selfish nature, to which I previously had been blind in many ways. To be honest, I did not like sharing my life. I did not like that another person had input into my decisions. I did not like that this person was so different from me and did not always see things the way that I saw them. I did not like that this person enjoyed spending his time in one way, when I enjoyed spending my time in another way. I did not like how this person’s sin affected me and how this person’s habits annoyed me. I did not like how his sin and irritating habits caused me to say things and act in ways that appalled me (i.e. my sinful reaction to his sin, or my graceless responses to his personality). And I did not like the fact that he could see my sin so clearly—much more clearly than I could. Although my sinfulness had been there all along, seeing the ugliness of my sin in a new way was humbling. I was starting to see how fellowship with another believer—particularly my husband—was being used by God to expose sin in my life, to speak God’s redemptive truth in my life, and to sanctify (gradually transform me). Even though it was a painful and slow process, we were growing in love, unity and oneness in our marriage. Although I felt increasingly exposed, I also began to feel increasingly safe and empowered as my husband and I grew in trust and commitment to one another. We also became increasingly dependent on the Lord, as we poured our hearts out to Him and sought Him for strength and wisdom. The Lord was working in our hearts about what it means to live as the Body of Christ and what it meant to be a friend.
Sometime after we had been married for maybe a couple years, I heard a talk given by a young pastor named Joshua Harris. While listening to him speak, I was moved by this pastor’s humility and wisdom. This led me to pick up his little book, “Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God”. I read it in 2 hours or less. The short book was filled with ideas and Scriptures that further convicted me that the church was beloved to Jesus and was meant to be beloved to me and that Jesus was using his church to bless His people and the world. It talked about the way that God works as we commit ourselves to a body of believers. Reading the book was whetting my appetite for something more. At the time, Kristian and I were committed and active in a church, but I was still blissfully naïve about church and what it means to live out the gospel as the Body of Christ. In many ways, I was experiencing the honeymoon stage of belonging to a church. At the time, I had not experienced conflict or disunity in the church. I was truly blessed by solid, Biblical teaching and warm, pleasant interaction with other believers. I was growing. I loved volunteering and serving in church. And yet, I still did not feel as if I could let my guard down with people in a sense—comparing myself to others and not wanting others to see how weak and sinful I was. And I did not experience many others around me who were willing to let their guard down either.
Years later, we experienced the storms of conflict and sin in our church. I know this experience was not unique--conflict and sin inevitably arise in a fallen world. A few of our church friendships remained and a few grew stronger. But many of our relationships with believers did not emerge unscathed—some relationships were lost altogether and others were severely weakened. I could not understand. This did not reflect the gospel—there is no such thing as a broken bridge to the God who is notorious for redeeming, restoring, renewing and reconciling! I felt disillusioned, hurt, broken, and abandoned. I was disappointed with how quickly fellowship could be broken and forgotten. I was confused at what was the point of being connected or committed to a church, and I wondered what God wanted from us. But through the painful experience, God was teaching us more about His desires for His church and His desires for us. Like He had done in so many of my life’s trials, God was at work—gradually rooting out sin in us, correcting our wrong views, and conforming our thoughts to His.
Once again, a primary tool He used in this process was our marriage. Krisitan and I felt so alone in so many ways during this season. This experience caused us to cling to God and to each other. We asked questions and sought answers. God in His grace spoke to us in strong ways through His Word, and also through other believers. In the Word, we began to see how the church is called by God to live out the gospel….how this happens between husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, and brothers and sisters. We began to see how the Bible assumes that sin will rear its ugly head in human relationships, but through these trials, God calls His people to a persevering, humble, sacrificial, impartial love—the kind of love He showed us in Christ, the kind of love that returns blessing for reviling, the kind of love that fights for the weak, and the kind of love that does not make sense to this world. We began to see that nothing done in Christ’s name matters without this Spirit-wrought love! We began to see that when one part of the Body suffers, the rest of the Body should feel that suffering, and when one part of the Body rejoices, the rest of the Body should feel that joy. We began to see that this kind of love, Christ’s love, changes the world—it is the aroma of Christ and it draws people to Him. The Lord led us to a church where these concepts that we were learning in our own study were also being preached. And we saw how people in this church were challenging each other to live this truth out.
God was doing a huge work in us. In our marriage, while we sinned against each other over and over (and still do), more and more we also learned to speak wisdom with love into each other’s lives and we learned to encourage one another in Christ. We were experiencing freedom—the kind of freedom that comes when you are tired of pretending and when you experience grace and can rest in committed love. We slowly learned to administer God’s grace to one another. We grew in our understanding of commitment and devotion in the Body of Christ as we grew in unity and oneness in our marriage. We were starting to see how our commitment and devotion to Christ was to overflow into commitment and devotion to His people. Our love for His people grew and our desire to authentically be engaged with His people also grew. We wanted to love even those whom we found difficult to love. We increasingly longed to live in sincerity and realness—we wanted to know and be known (walk in the light), and we wanted to help and be helped by the Body of Christ. We wanted to be less focused on ourselves and wanted to serve the interests of others, following Jesus’ example of sacrificial servant love. We increasingly wanted to grow in knowing Christ and becoming more like Him in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control. The Lord was teaching us that growth in these areas necessarily involves serving and being served by His people. He taught us that it involves being vulnerable and seeking out other believers. He taught us that so much of the New Testament commands have to do with how we love and receive love from the believers with whom He has called us to live in community. He calls us to love one another, to serve one another, to submit to one another, to rebuke one another, to encourage one another, to confess to one another, to restore one another, to pray for one another, to address one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, to instruct one another, to live in harmony with one another, to welcome one another, to comfort one another, to weep with one another, to rejoice with one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to bear with one another, to forgive one another, to admonish one another, to build one another up, to do good to one another, to exhort one another, to stir one another to love and good works, to show hospitality to one another, etc (phew! That’s a lot of one anothers!). All of these commands presume that we are in committed and deep relationship with a body of believers.
We are still on this journey. We still struggle to engage with other believers sometimes. We still struggle with selfishness and self-interestedness. And we still hurt and get hurt. But God, in His mercy, is still working on us and changing us. Our desire is to be rooted and grounded in His love---to grow in the knowledge of the love between Father and Son by the Spirit, to drink deeply of His scandalous love for us, to allow this love to flow out from us to others by His Spirit, to receive this love again through the Body of Christ and to allow it to flow back to Him through praise and worship of Him! We have learned that fellowship with and commitment to a local Body is a vital way that the gospel does this work in us and through us. And throughout this messy process, God is glorified.
17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
I Corinthians 12:12 & 13
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Cor 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.