‘Living above, with the saints we love, that will be glory;
Living below, with the saints we know, that’s another story!’
You have probably heard this old ditty, which tends to make us smile because we all understand that getting along with others in the church can at times be challenging. We are all so different given our cultural backgrounds, our individual temperaments, our diverse ages, our preferences when it comes to certain aspects, as well as our theological understandings and convictions, etc., etc.
Yet that is how God designed the Church… Relationships are at the very heart of the Trinity; they find expression with God’s desire to walk with those He has made. Of course, sin broke that perfect relationship in Eden, and the consequences of sin have remained with broken relationship between us and God, as well as with each other.
The Bible has a common theme running throughout: God’s patient love and initiative to restore relationship with sinful and broken people.
- Out of the Ten Commandments, the first four concern our relationship with God; the last six are to do with relating to other people.
- Someone worked out that 44% of the New Testament letters has to do with relationships. Much of the teaching addresses specific relationships such as families, marriages, parents, work places, government/society, and churches.
The good news of the gospel is all about God’s priority to restore all the key relationships, both with our Maker and with each other… and to that end Christ died for us. Not simply for individual salvation (though that is the vital starting point), but the incorporation into the Body of Christ, by faith, where every Christian becomes a member of Christ’s Church and has a part to play.
Given the presence of God’s Holy Spirit within every Christian, there is a compelling case for each of us to be helped to live out the relational life God intended, in the context of DIVERSITY. I heard someone make this telling comment: ‘Christians are so busy dividing, that they have no time to multiply’. Ouch!
So, instead of each one of us imposing our rights and preferences on others, how brilliant it would be if every local church discovered they were less individualistic, and far more intentional about loving one another, forgiving one another, honouring one another, devoted to one another, carrying one another’s burdens, submitting to one another, praying for one another… the list of ‘one anothers’ goes on!
I long for every person at Cambray to increasingly sense their growth into Christ as they work out all the implications of being part of the local Christian family. We know church life is far from perfect, because we are far from perfect. By God’s grace we are not what we once were, and we are not what we will be when we see Jesus face to face. But in the meantime, we are called to be obedient to the call of Jesus, to allow his extravagant love to saturate our own life, that we will be helped to live out all of those New Testament ‘one anothers’.
That takes time, and getting close to others. When we disagree, this should not cause schism, rather an opportunity to talk more and listen carefully to another’s point of view. As our recent Sunday evening ‘Church Life’ called for, the fact that we are ‘in Christ’ should make a tangible difference to the way we treat one another…
As I was urging, just like many of the Christian conferences we enjoy – eg. Keswick – where Christians often comment that it was a foretaste of heaven with all these different Christians united around the Lord Jesus and the Word of God; why settle for that just one week a year?
How about a taste of Keswick (or other Christian Conferences) all through the year, as we actively seek that unity of the Spirit. This will require prayer, the filling of God’s Holy Spirit, a gentle willingness to place secondary issues (which are often divisive) to one side, and enjoy the agreement of the essentials that join all Christian men and women in Christ.
As Saint Augustine expressed so helpfully:
‘In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity’
Wishing and praying that the Lord Jesus will provide all you need in these key areas for this coming term and academic year, that increasingly we may be ‘All one in Christ Jesus’.
July’s ‘Church Life’ talk is available in the sermon section of this website, for 26 July 2015 – ‘All one in Christ Jesus?’ www.cambray.org/sermons/all-one-in-christ-jesus-2