Jesus loves the church. He asked the church-hating Paul, ‘why do you persecute me?’ Just as I wouldn’t enjoy listening to nasty things about my mother, so Jesus doesn’t enjoy listening to ungracious things said against his people. Jesus doesn’t want to listen to your gossip! He never starts a conversation with the words, ‘heard any scandal lately?’
So, if we know that Jesus does not want us to be harsh and unloving, then why are we so critical of each other? Why are we so slow to love each other? How can we say that we love Jesus if we don’t love the people who make up his body? Why do we attempt to hurt the body when we don’t get our way? You can’t love Jesus if you don’t love his people. To hurt God’s people is to wound Christ! Psalm one hundred and thirty-three tells us how good it is when we get along.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down Aaron’s beard, down the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
One of the points being made in this psalm is that the unity of God’s people brings opposites together. This is symbolised by the high area of Hermon in the rural north and the little hill of Zion in the urban south. For the dew that gathered on Hermon to fall on Zion would be a miracle. In the same way it takes a miracle to unite together people from differing races and backgrounds. One of the best things about this church fellowship is the fact that we have such a mixture of ages and nationalities. We have over twenty language groups in this fellowship. That is something to be celebrated. As we live in love we become fragrant and good, like the precious oil of ancient times, like oil running down the High Priest Aaron’s beard. So let us ‘be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:2-3).
How do we deal with difficult people in this church?
How do you deal with the fact that there will be people in this fellowship that you struggle to like? The solution is not simply to pack your bags and go to a church where the people are nicer. It won’t be long before you find difficult people there too. Besides, if you spend your life running away from those who get on your nerves you are not going to become very mature.
Begin by praying for them. I remember a lecturer of pastoral care in college pointing out that it is very difficult to hate someone that you are praying regularly for. David Murray writes, ‘Prayer never changes God. It sometimes changes the person we are praying for. It always changes us.’
Have a humble attitude towards them. My dad used to tell me to try to learn something new from everyone I met. Such thinking implies that people have things to teach us. We see such humility in the Apostle Paul’s command to consider other people more important than ourselves. ‘When you are in a group and people start pulling down another Christian, why not suggest areas of the person’s life and character that show the work of Christ in him or her?’ (David Murray). Also, remember that the grace that covers their flaws is the same grace that covers yours. What an amazing God we have who loves people like them. Of course, what an amazing God I have that loves someone as irritating as me.
Do you ever find that you are most critical of the failings in others that you are most tempted towards? I am most critical of preachers who promote themselves because I want to promote myself. Sometimes we are hard on those who struggle with our failings because when I find someone worse than myself, it makes me feel superior. Maybe I can’t stand someone else’s gossip or pride because it is so much like my own gossip and pride. When you see your sins in other people thank God that he forgives both them and you.
In his book on happiness, David Murray tells us to springboard from Christians to Christ. I think this is ingenious. ‘When you are tempted to start mulling over someone’s imperfection, instead think of the opposite perfection in Jesus.’ So you are troubled by the fact that someone has a harsh or dishonest tongue, praise Jesus for the fact that his words were ‘full of grace and truth.’ If someone is proud and always wants to push themselves forward, remember how Jesus took the nature of a servant to live and die for us. Someone is always going on about their children; remember how your heavenly Father delights in you as one of his. Someone lives to get rich; remember how Christ, being rich, became poor for us. ‘There is no sin found in a Christian that cannot act as a springboard to Christ and His beautiful holiness’ (Murray).
How should we think about other churches?
Christ cares nothing for our denominational divisions. He wants all his diverse people to be united. This is what he prayed for the night before he was crucified. How do we think about the other churches? I will focus simply on some of the church’s that we are most familiar with in this city.
Stop comparing: Is this the church that God has led you too? If so, stop comparing it with other churches. Other churches may have better facilities, better speakers, better children’s ministry or have a better band. Other churches may even have nicer people. However, this is the preacher, the people, the facilities and the band in the church God has led you too. You need good reasons, not just selfish reasons, to break away from one church fellowship to join another. If he wanted us to have more talented leaders or different people, he would have given them to us. Encourage people grow in their gifts, but don’t demand that they become someone they are not.
Stop competing: Abundant Life has a brand new building and Elevate continues to grow. We should be glad about these things. These are our sister churches. It is wonderful to co-operate with the New Testament Church and Mallow Street in Axis. We are all a part of the family of God. There is something spiritually sick when we want our church to be better than other churches. There is something wrong with us when we are jealous of things in other churches. We don’t want to encourage people to go from church to church, but if someone were to leave us and join another evangelical church that really is no big deal. We are seek to see the God in other churches, just as we are to seek to see God in other Christians, and we are to delight when they prosper and grieve when struggle.
You might want church to be perfect. But maybe the perfect church wouldn’t help you grow. You see you won’t become more patient if there is no-one close to you who tests your patience. You won’t become more tolerant if everything is always done the way you want it.
The happy Christian is happy with their church. But how do we become happier with your church?
It is largely about how you think. Do you simply see the faults in other people, or do you see the graces that God has given them? When you see that other Christians are imperfect, do we celebrate the gracious God who loves imperfect people like us? When the church lacks gifts in certain areas, are you content that if God wanted people with those gifts he would have given them to us?
God has called us into a wonderful, diverse community that he has supernaturally bonded. We love these people because God first loved us. Gossip, complaint, argumentativeness and back-biting not only reveal a lack of love for God’s people, it suggests that we are not allowing God’s love transform our hearts. Remember what these people mean to God. They are the apple of his eye, the friends of Christ, his brothers and sisters and even part of his body.
So focus on the God of infinite patience who delights over a flawed person like you. Mediate on the God who went to such lengths to bring you into the true fellowship of the church. Ask his Spirt to produce within you the fruit of love, patience and self-control. Please God as you get pleasure from his people!