The Church: Relationships
It’s difficult to know how to write about the topic of relationships in the church. You’ll note that I saved this subject for last in this 3-part series. The subject could fill numerous books, so my quandary is how to narrow it down. Bear with me as I dive in the best way I know how.
First, let’s remember Hebrews 10:24-25 when it says that we should “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” We have a clear behest to meet together with other believers in a local church.
Once there, what will we find? Is your local church filled to the brim with devout Christians who are perfectly obedient to God? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Then disagreements would be minimized, and everyone would get along pretty well. But that’s not the case, is it?
There are two major groups in the church: Christians and non-Christians. Right there you will see a source of conflict, because the Christian view of life is in sharp contrast to the world’s view. A Christian looks through the lens of God’s word. The unbeliever will not have that foundation. This is not to imply that they are not well intentioned, but trying to combine worldly and Christian views is like mixing oil and water. Christians have one ultimate authority: God. Non-Christians do not recognize that authority.
Why would someone who is not a Christian join the church? For a variety of reasons, usually unbeknownst to the pastor. Perhaps they were taken to church as a child, and it’s just a habit they’re continuing. Maybe the spouse is a Christian, so they tag along to keep everyone happy. Membership in a church also can look good on a resume. Have you noticed that well over 90% of politicians are members of Christian churches? And do you truly think that many are believers?
Even if the church were entirely filled with Christians, there can still be problems. The believer is not a perfect individual; he is quite clear that he is not and relies on Jesus Christ for salvation. Sanctification is a lifelong process. We can still struggle with issues of control, pride, the tongue, and a host of others. However, we have a guidebook for life, the Bible, that is our final authority, and we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, which makes living out the Christian life possible.
When dealing with fellow believers, remember our verse from Hebrews 10: it says that we should exhort one another. To exhort means to urge others to do the right thing—“right” in our context meaning that which lines up with Scripture. One of its synonyms is to encourage. We are not to beat one another over the head with exhortation, but to gently steer them back to the right path. When the Holy Spirit is leading a Christian, this steering is welcomed (even if there is an initial defense reaction) because we want to grow up in Christ.
Ephesians 4:14-16 (NASB) can be a good guide in accepting and delivering exhortation; “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Harshness is never appropriate. Nor is nitpicking. We are to do all things in love.
So, to clarify, what can we do if we are around a church member who, for example, is gossiping? Don’t join in, and gently define it as gossip (“let’s not gossip about…”). They may be pained that they have gossiped and weren’t even aware of doing it. However, they might even need a reminder that gossip is listed with murder among the things God calls unrighteousness. (See Romans 1)
Above all, act in love. Remember that you are among your brothers and sisters in Christ. Want the best for them, and treat them with the same mercy you were shown by God through Jesus Christ. They are members of the same body as you.
I’ll conclude with Colossians 3:14-16 (NASB): “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”