October 21, 2013

The Life of Faith

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Though we often hear 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, read to a beaming bride and nervous groom, Paul’s poetic words were originally written for a different kind of bride: the body of Christ, the church.

The little Corinthian church was struggling. And Paul’s singular purpose—now “I will show you the most excellent way . . .”—was to encourage these fragile believers to stick together, to love each other in spite of their struggles.

Like 1 Corinthians, most of Scripture was written not to individuals but to groups of believers: Romans in Rome, Ephesians in Ephesus, Philippians in Philippi. Being a church member, Paul explained, is like being the member of a body. A member can’t function alone any more than a hand or foot can function alone.

Yet today many believers have gotten away from a commitment to the body. We (1) abandon the body, (2) judge the body, (3) avoid intimacy with the body, (4) harm the body. Why? Because we tend to treat others as we have been treated. If we’ve experienced abandonment, we’re quick to abandon. If we’ve experienced judgment, we’re quick to judge. If we’ve experienced bad forms of intimacy, we avoid true intimacy. If we’ve been harmed, we harm.

But the power of Christ is much greater than the power of our past. We are made into new creations by the Spirit of Christ who calls us into healthy relationships with the body of Christ. He calls us to (1) commit to the body, (2) love the body, (3) welcome intimacy with the body, (4) heal the body.

We are made into new creations by the Spirit of Christ who calls us into healthy relationships with the body of Christ.

At my local church our members have prepared the following “Statement of Commitment,” as well as an accompanying video. (See www.youtube.com/watch?v=sutusQ4x8AY&feature=youtu.be.) Perhaps your church would enjoy doing the same—a love letter not to a bride, but from her.

“We’re committed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to the teachings of Scripture. We’re also committed to the following principles that shape us in this particular time and place in which we find ourselves together:

“1. We’re committed to loving each other the way Christ loves us. We recognize that the church, the body of Christ, is fragile. When one part of the body is hurting, the whole body suffers. We will not tear down each other through criticism and gossip. Instead, we will build up the body of Christ, recognizing our need for what each other brings, gently restoring those who hurt to full ministry, and helping new members see and experience their place in the kingdom of God.

“2. We’re committed to being here together as often as possible, the way a family should be. We recognize that we can’t effectively welcome new faces when we don’t even know who the regular faces are. Church is not a building but people, and we’re committed to being here for each other: all ages, all backgrounds, all stages of the life of faith.

“3. We’re committed to communicating the Living Word in a language that people understand—through a variety of worship expressions and learning styles. But we will not let the language be the end in itself. We recognize that only through the Spirit of Christ can a heart be transformed.

“4. We’re committed to serving others with the abilities God has given us: answering the distress calls of other believers and attending to the basic needs and deeper hurts of people in our local and global community. We believe it is a nonnegotiable mandate of Christ to share His love and grace with those inside and outside our community.

“5. We’re committed to the life of faith—not only on Sabbath mornings but all week long. We know that a worship service should not be the sole source of the life of faith, but should be the celebration of it. We commit ourselves to the life Christ calls us to, recognizing that despite our best efforts, we will fall short and continually rely on the love and grace of God.”