Jared has been challenging us a bit on the church and whether we should love it or leave it. I'm a big fan of the loving the church. If we love Jesus, how can we not come to love his bride? In fact, 1 John has quite a bit to say about loving the body as a mark of truly belong to Christ and loving others.
I would submit to you that many people love the idea of the church but it is quite another thing to actually love the people in the church in a way that is sacrificial and keeps no records of wrongs in a 1 Corinthians 13 like manner. I have, over my time as a pastor, encountered people who claimed to be filled with love but actually have a lot of trouble loving the church in a manner that is expressed by consistent attention to her and the people within her. In short, it is often to easy to cut and wrong when loving people actually becomes hard work. It is often easier to leave and start over. But is that the most Christ-like thing to do?
I think the book of Philemon here is can be quite instructive. Philemon, who has living for the Lord and committed to the body, regularly refreshing the people of God was called to do the hardest thing yet and actually love a brother in cross who had wronged him. He was called to forgive and welcome Onesimus as a Christian brother after being stabbed in the back when Onesimus ran away as a slave.
This is not the time or the place to get into a detailed exegesis of Philemon. I will point out that Onesimus running away was probably more akin to a trusted employee skipping town after plundering the company safe, not like a Southern slave running North around the time of the Civil War.
I recently preached from Philemon as part of a 'vision' series for my church. What is interesting to me is how Paul remarks that Philemon often 'refreshed' the hearts of the saints and of Paul and then he is asked to do the Christian thing and forgive Onesimus.
Paul opens his letter with the following:
4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
With the phrase 'sharing of your faith,' Paul doesn't have evangelism in mind here but I think rather it is the communion or fellowship that comes from the faith. He wants the 'fellowship/sharing of the faith' to become effective. This 'fellowship' is becoming effective has Philemon refreshes the saints but will also become effective as Onesimus is welcomed by Philemon.
That said, I think there are three things that I should expect then in going to church:
1. I am going to hear God's Word and worship Him. --to do this properly I have to be gathered with other saints in some way. Hearing God's Word and worshipping Him is not something I should only do by myself.
2. The saints are going to refresh me. --I should expect that there is something that should happen in the body that cannot happen without loyal, regular participation with the body. If fellowship is going to refresh me it has to go deeper simple friendship.
3. I am going to refresh other saints. --I should go to church with the expectation that I will love and invest in the lives of others. This means putting back into the church with my spiritual gifts. This means sacrificially love for the benefit of others so that they may become spotless and clean as I serve them. Think of how Jesus washed the disciples' feet and ask yourself do I love my church that much?
Our fellowship in the faith will not become effective unless we lock arms with fellow believers in the local expression of the body of Christ. It can be tough and hard at times. It can be easier, at times, to leave. But if Christ is patient with his body, seeking to clean them up and constantly forgiving them, how much more can we who are his children be committed to making the sacrifices that love entails in order to be true disciples and share in the fellowship of Christ's love.
I think the question should be how do we make our fellowship more effective?
What does it say about the effectiveness of our sharing of the faith if we are quick to leave when it comes to our grievances or those who have wronged us?
What is the hardest thing God has called you to do in order to love Christ's body?
I'd love to hear your comments, maybe your thoughts will encourage others to love even when love is tough.