Yesterday, my grandson and I walked into a church neither of us has attended previously. When you go into a new situation, do you size it up? I do! Do these people like being here? Are they happy, engaged? Do they appear to like each other? Without prompting, a few minutes after we arrived, Gavin, who’s 16, commented. “I like this place, Grandpa. People are friendly.” And, so they were. I could see that there was a real community developing as I saw many talking to others, standing to visit, looking into each other’s faces like friends do.
People matter and relationship are critical to our Christian faith and practice! It’s an old song, but we need to keep singing it so that we do not forget the message.
There is a part in Paul’s letters many of us read quickly, or even skip over thinking it says little to us today. It is his closings in which he often mentions people by name, specifically mentioning their needs, their contributions, or even a correction. This passage is an example. “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.” (Titus 3:12-15, NIV) I don’t know much about Artemas or Zenas but they mattered to Paul and the Church! These people were his friends, his compatriots in the work of Christ. He cared about them and his affection is written into Holy Scripture.
Are you connected to others significantly?
Are they getting written into your story of faith – people you care for, who care for you?
Are you creating cohorts that will stand with you when you’re down and celebrate the wins with you without envy?
I know that life is busy, way too busy with school events, job obligations, personal care, and the demands of keeping it all working. It might be that you think that there is just no time to be part of a Life Group, or that you’re just ‘too different’ from ‘those people’ who sit alongside of you in your church. Or perhaps you were involved and people being imperfect as we all are, you got wounded, overlooked, pushed to the side, or just ignored. There is no mystery to me why Jesus spoke so often about forgiveness. We need to forgive and be forgiven … a lot! But, we also need those people around us.
In case you believe the first century church was a paradise of loving relationships, read the 14th and 15th chapters of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers. He corrects and cajoles. “Stop fighting about secondary matters!” he says. “Stop judging one another and accept each other!” That letter ends with a lengthy testament to the people who mattered to him. I’m going to use an excerpt from that passage as the word from the Word. It may strike you as irrelevant, full of names of people you don’t know, from another time. But, as you read it, let it be a reminder to you to include others, to work actively to build relationships, to be the Body of Christ in more than words.
Please don’t skip over it. Read it slowly and give thanks for those that God has put in YOUR life to make you complete, whole, and blessed.
” I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.
Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.
I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:1-20, NIV)
Abba, bring Your people, Your Church, to beautiful unity.
Help us to love those with whom we live in your work,
even as they are imperfect, even when we are impatient.
Teach us the songs of love and worship that bind us as one
in Christ Jesus, Your Son, our Lord.
Take us beyond tolerating one another into places of
deep affection, writing our shared story in our hearts.