You’re driving to church on a hurried Sunday morning and it hits you… You realize that you’re going to have to see “that person.” The wound from their careless words is still fresh and a chill hangs in the air between you. Your Sunday plans suddenly become a strategy to avoid “that person” without making it obvious you are avoiding “that person.” Can’t walk that aisle… must stay near the restrooms for easy escape… must look believably harried with my children. It sounds silly but many of us have been there.
You may not realize it yet, but this situation is actually part of God’s grace in your life.
God sanctifies us through the people around us. Community is a tool for becoming like Jesus Christ and an agent of change in the hands of the Spirit. Most of us value community for encouragement, comfort, and teaching. Community helps us grow by being lovingly present during the hard times, but this is not the whole picture. God is always working in us through our community. Not just in the intentional and positive ways, but also in the accidental and negative. Community squeezes and stretches us–it shakes things up. When things shake, they spill. And a shaken community of sinners will inevitably spill forth sin. The truth about who we are, what we believe, and what matters most to us all comes out through conflict as a result of our community.
Anyone reading this who is married can remember how their marriage brought to light some glaring flaws. Being “locked in” to the covenant of marriage highlighted our need for growth. The same is true in your covenant of membership in your church–that is, if you are treating membership as a true commitment. Often we treat the membership commitment as a casual acquaintance. We see our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we want, in the context we choose, and interact to the level we desire. We don’t share enough of our time, money or hearts to ever get bumped. And if we do “spill” our sinfulness in any significant way we may leave and find a new church.
Oh how this bars us from the beautiful power of the Gospel of Christ! The Gospel is made visible in our commitment to people who sin against us. Can you hear it in Paul’s words to the Ephesians?
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
A life “worthy of the calling” is getting along with other members in your church. We must embrace the grace of God when our brothers and sisters frustrate, grieve, and harm us. These are opportunities for humility, gentleness, and patience! These are moments to display our faith in the Gospel!
So don’t strategically avoid another brother or sister; rather, embrace them. God is using even the worst in them to ferret out the worst in you!