Trevin Wax asks these questions:
How do unbelievers know we are Christians?
- By the fish symbols on our car?
- By our bumper stickers?
- By our voting patterns?
- By our church attendance?
No. Jesus tells us that the outside world will know we are Christians by the way we love one another. (John 13.34-35; 1 John 4.12) When we submit to one another in love, we bolster our evangelistic witness by showing the world that love and authority don’t have to be separated. God’s rule is life-giving. He rules us for our good and for his glory, and the church reflects that loving rule.
(From Counterfeit Gospels, page 157)
But what about when that love runs cold? What are faithful followers of Christ to do when we grate on one another or disappoint one another? I am not talking about when we are in conflict, necessarily. I have in mind when we just seem to grow apart?
This is a pertinent question to ponder, because inevitably most will experience this in at least some relationships with others in our churches. So how are we to respond? How can we most glorify God in these situations?
First, let me offer an illustration of a way not to respond.
Once, in a previous church I served, I participated in a discussion with a church member who had seemingly disappeared. As we inquired about him, how was doing, and what he was up to, he informed us that he had been disappointed by some of the Elders in the church. None of us had been aware that this had been the case, so we were filled with a mixture of emotions: sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. One man asked him why he had not made this known, why he had not followed the pattern of Matthew 18 to seek reconciliation and restoration of relationships. His response: “Matthew 18 does not apply. None of you sinned against me.”
Somewhat perplexed, I inquired: “Had someone offended you because of sin would you have then followed Matthew 18?” He assured us all that he most certainly would have done that. And I believe him. He was (and is) a faithful man, zealous to be obedient to God.
I felt I had no choice. I had to point out the absurdity of this logic. He was missing the whole spirit of the instructions for the process of reconciliation. True, Matthew 18 is a process that must be undertaken and which could culminate in some form of church discipline. But it is not discipline the Lord delights in. Our Lord delights in heartfelt relationship. What this man expressed was essentially that he would have shown more love and concern for his fellow Christians had any of us been guilty of offensive sins. Absent that, he felt he had no responsibility to seek to restore these relationships. In other words, he would have loved us more had we sinned against him than he did because we had not.
I suspect his dilemma is not uncommon. In our disposable culture it seems relationships are among the easiest things to discard. But as I posed at the beginning of this post, this is not the way things ought to be among those in Christ’s Church. As J.I. Packer observes, in his doctrinal handbook Concise Theology:
“The task of the church is to make the invisible Kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing.”
I think Packer sums it up beautifully. Our task is to embody the values and principles before a watching world. By doing so we become a living demonstration of the way things ought to be – and one day will be. As we live this out, perhaps especially in relationship, we are counter-cultural – i.e. we present an alternative to the culture in which we live.
So how should we respond when we feel we have drifted apart from others in our church? How, practically, do we honor God with our relationships?
As a realist Jamie observes the Bitter Fruit of Discontentment:
- Discontentment can lead to complaining & grumbling
- Discontentment can lead to discord
- Discontentment distracts from what is REALLY important.
How should we handle our discontent?
- Pray for God’s Mercy
- Examine Our Desires
- Be Careful With Your Words
- Fill Your Heart for a Passion for God’s Glory
How do we cultivate that passion?
- First, Do good even when you don’t feel like it.
- Second, Count others as more significant than yourself.
I wonder how our churches would look if we embraced these standards. I wonder how the watching world would respond to Jesus if we actually lived this out. I imagine our unbelieving friends and neighbors would see the difference and then might know what it means to be a Christians: heartfelt followers of the gracious King.