In a conversation with a friend I wondered aloud at the way I have changed over the years in my relationship with those in my pastoral care. Often, when I was a young pastor, my first inclination was to ‘efficiency’ and I focused on the organization and the programs of the church. I still care that we do our work in the best way possible, but it is the people that I care most deeply about. I admit that tears readily fill my eyes when I pray for those who are struggling or hurting. My heart is elated at the report of a victory. And, this is right because God’s desire for His Church is, first and foremost, about creating and strengthening relationships- with Himself and with one another.
Paul, in his first letter to the disciples in Thessalonica, writes at length about his concern for the people there that he had introduced to Christ Jesus. He apologizes for not getting back to visit them writing that “out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you” but Satan hindered those attempts repeatedly. He remembers his time among them with these words of deep love. “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, NIV) The people of God were the reason for Paul’s existence, the source of his joy. He says, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, NIV)
Are you loved and loving in the family of God?
Let me speak honestly to this. I am concerned that we (Christians) spend so little together that it is all but impossible to form and sustain the kind of loving connection that God wants for us. We know that love is to be the singular mark of the disciple, but we frequently confuse the real affection of the brotherhood (sisters, too) with something more like an association or social club.
The best experience of Christianity has a context of a ‘family,’ when people get together regularly, rubbing elbows, sharing life, learning one another’s stories. Does that sound like a lot of work? It is! Will it always be a warm, wonderful, fulfilling experience? Answer that by thinking about your own family. Families have conflicts. There is always that one who makes things tense, who tells the wrong story, who demands attention … but that’s family and we love each other, sometimes because of our personalities and sometimes in spite of them. Part of maturity is learning how to love those who are difficult. But, we all recognize that we are richer for the connections.
God’s plan for us is to call us INTO His Body, the Church. We will come to love those in His family at least as deeply as our own flesh and blood. That well-known passage about the Church teaches us that “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:18-21, NIV) That is not just some ideal, far removed from reality.
Our word from the Word is about the key thing that keeps us connected, that overcomes our disappointments, that feels us with the kind of joy of which Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. As you read it, my prayer is that God will call you to raise your commitment to His family, the Church, so that together we can become the remarkable people that He desires.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever, but prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will all disappear.
Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear. It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-13, NLT)
Father, I am so grateful for Your family.
Teach me to value my relationships in Your church,
To assign a priority to time together.
As You teach me of my spiritual gifts, help me to connect
With others, in a mutually beneficial way that makes
Your love and life visible to our world.
Jesus, thank you for showing me how to love, selflessly and sacrificially.
Give me courage to go beyond my fears, to forgive those who fail,
To lift up others.