Today, I am thinking about the global church during the oppression of the virus, and how the intentionality we must put into fellowship now suddenly makes us so much more aware of who we choose to spend time with.
One of the most powerful things about the church is that it forces us to love people that we would never have chosen to love. We live in an age in which church shopping is normal. While I do believe there are legitimate reasons to choose to fellowship in one church over another, and that it's important to worship in an environment where you are truly being built up spiritually, I also suspect that we approach church with far too much self-focus.
In the early days of the church, you didn't have your pick of churches. You just went to the church that was in your city or local area because there was literally nowhere else to go. There was one church in Corinth. One church in Philippi. One church in Galatia. Travel was long and tedious; you couldn't church shop in a fifty-mile radius. You had to make do with the church you had. This is partially why Paul and Peter constantly addressed divisions in the church and urged unity. The believers of these fledgling churches had to get along or there would be no churches to go to. While church discipline was important to keep truly divisive and heretical people from tearing the church apart, many of the cases involved situations under the category of "She rubs me the wrong way."
I have seen over and over the incredible God-power of unity grown from the tenacity of believers who refused to give up on one another, despite differences. We talk about "iron sharpening iron" so glibly (Proverbs 27:17), like all that is involved is a good bracing theological debate with people we already like. In reality, iron sharpens iron by scraping, chipping pieces off of one another, grinding one another down until it hurts. The reality is that this sharpening process involves people we don't always like, who express truth in a way that grates on us, and with whom we must sometimes agree to disagree.
Heaven is going to be full of believers who tested our patience on earth, and we will miss so many incredible treasures of fellowship if we just stick with the relationships that we like.
I laughed out loud when I listened to a Timothy Keller sermon in which he made this observation: When you're a pastor, you have to love whoever God sends through your door. You don't get to pick and choose your friends. And some of them are people you would never choose to spend time with, but you're the pastor, so you have to spend time with them.
I laughed because I totally get it. In the last few years, I've learned that those personality differences or difficult-to-love people are not the problem of the pastor. They're the privilege of every single believer in the church. We don't get to drift into the doors of the church, hear an inspiring message, and then grab Sunday lunch with people that we already approve of and enjoy being around. I mean, sure, if we want to stick in our little comfortable bubbles to the exclusion of the outreaching heart of the Christ, we can do so. But we'll miss out on treasures we didn't even know existed.
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