I regularly (and should more often) ask myself, “Am I being the best representative of Christ I could be?”
Like any skeptical teenager, I casually observed people who claimed to be Christians before I came to Christ. Honestly, I was discouraged and unimpressed. Inconsistent and questionable behavior, strife, gossip, bloodletting and backbiting were so obvious. Who did these people think they were fooling? Did they really believe that those on the outside looking in were that ignorant or did they just not care? In the midst of my pain and confusion, why would I willingly invest my time and energy by getting involved in the never-ending nonsense, drama, scandals and sins of “church people”?
Not surprisingly, for a long time after my conversion, my greatest fear and frustration about sharing my faith and encouraging others to obey the Gospel was the spiritual character and condition of too many (not all) church members. . .
- The degree of spiritual ignorance and apathy was disturbing.
- The lack of sensitivity, creativity, vision and flexibility was troubling.
- The level of worldliness, pettiness and contention is damning.
- And the divisive and unspiritual hell raisers have been allowed to dominate for far too long.
Growing as a Christian was hard. At times, the spiritual injuries inflicted by spiritual family members were devastating. I have the scars on my conscience and in my heart to prove it. I can painfully understand why so many have concluded that “church” would be the last place they would go to seek help or understanding. I often wondered. . . “Are our attempts at evangelism vain and corrupt like the religious establishment of Jesus’ day?”
“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. . . Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” – Matthew 23:13, 15 (New International Version)
How could I educate, nurture, challenge and love individuals (that need Christ) into an environment that could snuff out their flickering flames of light, life and hope? Would I be setting them up for pain, doubt, disillusionment and bitterness because too many church members neglected and rejected them?
Because there will be human weakness, failings and imperfections wherever you find people, I want to briefly note four spiritual remedies that keeps our everyday humanity in check (if we let them). . .
Regardless of the circumstances within me, my home, my workplace, my community or within the church – no matter how discouraging or desperate it gets – by the power and grace of God, I am required to stand for and obey Christ. Regardless of whatever, I have a personal responsibility to Him (Galatians 6:9; I Corinthians 16:13, 14).
Fortunately, before I became a part of the church, my desire to get closer to Jesus and to have clear conscience before God was greater than the “people and personality problems” in the church. Of course issues and circumstances shouldn’t be ignored (nor denied) but among the most important priorities of all Christians is to focus on Jesus and His call to higher standards and integrity.
If only every member wholeheartedly elevated Jesus to the supreme position in their everyday lives! The sacrificial act of His death on the cross will always draw people to Him (John 3:13 – 16; 12:27 – 36). Such a self-giving nature is mandatory for followers of Christ.
Self-control and self-denial for the sake of the gospel, the kingdom and for others are commendable virtues (I Thessalonians 4:3 – 8; I Peter 2:11, 12; II Peter 1:5 – 10; Matthew 10:37 – 39; Luke 18:28 – 30; Matthew 16:24 – 26; Luke 14:25 – 34; Romans 12:1, 2; Galatians 5:22 – 26; Colossians 3:5 – 8; I Peter 4:1 – 7). Granted, differing matters of opinion and differing levels of spiritual maturity do come into play. This is where love, grace and forbearance comes in.
Forbearance is one of the commandments directing and regulating the relationship between Christians (I Corinthians 13:4 – 7; Ephesians 4:2, 3; Colossians 3:12 – 14). We must continually and patiently endure (put up with) one another as an expression of love. Spiritual strength and guidance are key.
The New Testament contains God-ordained mechanisms and commandments to maintain disciplined order in the church (Romans 16:17 – 19; II Corinthians 1:23 – 2:11; I Corinthians 5; II Corinthians 7; II Thessalonians 3; Matthew 18:15 – 20; Titus 3).
The controversies, pettiness and sin that church leadership and membership allow to run rampant are a damning shame. As a result, souls in the church pews and souls of everyday people in our communities are losing opportunities to be saved because we (the church) can’t get our act together. Where is the credibility and integrity?
We must remember the Righteous God will hold us responsible. Jesus proclaimed that the wheat and the weeds would grow together until He returns again (Matthew 13:24 – 30, 36 – 43). In the meantime, each person is to respect other members of the body and take direction from Christ, the Head of the Body.
We need to be patient with the human weaknesses found in the church. It is made up of imperfect people doing the best we can with God’s help. To my non-Christian friends, don’t let perceived or real hypocrisy keep you away from Jesus.
Instead of focusing on whether you are just as good, good enough or better than so and so. . . Instead of focusing on your own shortcomings and mistakes. . . Magnify and embrace Jesus – the Truth and Grace of God. Then together we can grow, flourish and thrive in Him! And when you have relationships between Christians growing and flourishing, the beauty of the church shines bright!