(Republished with permission from Press Service International, for Christian Today Australia)
How do we see the church? An institution, a people, political entity, place of healing, place of hurt, place of God’s presence, His bride? The church has been called many things, associated with both good and bad. In light of all this, how are we to see the church? How are we to treat her?
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Church through coloured glasses
People struggle through different views of the church. Some feel their non-Christian friends are closer than their Christian friends. They struggle to reconcile their love for God and sense that despite feeling a lack of fellowship, the church is meant to be part of this. Some leave the church altogether and decide they are better off pursuing God alone. Others leave both the church and God, having been so offended or hurt by something there that they turn their back on both.
I once spent a period of time visiting various churches. It was an interesting season as I felt God opened my eyes to His bigger picture. He showed me that He was doing many things, through many people, in many different ways not only in my city, but in the nation and in the world. While I enjoyed this season of wandering, I am so glad that God eventually led me to settle in a local church.
It was in this local church where I came to understand with my heart what I knew from God’s word to be true. We are called to love God and to love others; to journey through life in community, growing together in Christ. God’s presence dwells with His people, His church, His beloved bride. He brings healing, peace, restoration, and transformation to our lives. His presence causes people to stand in wonder, even before they have known Him personally.
When we take off our coloured glasses, we allow God to show us how He sees His church.
“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.”” (Revelation chapter 21, verses 2-3)
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Why should we love the church?
The strongest reason we have for loving the church is that God loves her. How can we say we love God, but hate His bride? How can we say we are fully submitted to Him if we neglect His clear desire for the restoration of the church?
When we see the way God sees the church, we are transformed in how we act towards her:
- The church is the bride, loved by Christ and holy before Him (Ephesians chapter 5, verses 25-27)
- The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 12)
- The church has the presence of God (Matthew chapter 18, verse 20)
- The church cannot be overcome by the enemy (Matthew chapter 16, verse 18)
- The church is where people are encouraged in faith (Hebrews chapter 10, verses 24-25)
- The church is where people are grown in the fullness of Christ (Ephesians chapter 4, verses 11-13)
If God loves the church and gives her such important purpose, then we ought also to love and build her up.
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Dealing with hurt and offense
The Bible often mentions conflict in the church, but it also shows us how we might overcome this. Conflict is inevitable, and the church is made up of broken people. However, our brokenness is also covered by the blood of Jesus; His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness and His love. If God loved us in the ugliness of our sin, how much more should we love those around us?
One of the saddest things I hear is when people say they remember the peace and beauty of God, but cannot get past an offense or hurt they have had in the context of church. It is like they miss God and want to see Him again, but cannot bear to let go of the bitterness that stands in their way.
1 Peter shows us a way to overcome any offense:
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”” (1 Peter chapter 4, verse 8)
This does not mean that there are no consequences for wrongdoing, or that everything is excusable. The church needs to recognise weaknesses, and know how to protect people. However, we are each responsible for our own relationship with God, and God’s love always heals, always comforts and always restores.
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Recognising our role
What can we do to lift up the church? Here are just a few ideas:
- Pray for the church
- Avoid gossip
- Speak encouragement to others
- Recognise that different people and different churches have different spiritual giftings
- Learn to forgive, and show mercy to others
- Serve humbly
The church right now is not perfect, but a day is coming when God will fully restore His bride in her beauty. So let us embrace the church and help her prepare for that day!
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians chapter 6, verse 10)