My husband and I usually sit in the third row at church but once a month, because I help out with the overheads, I sit in the back. Today was my turn. Sitting all the way in the back gives you a whole different perspective. With my bird’s eye view of the room I kind of quietly surveyed the gathering. From the worship team, to the ushers, to those ministering to the children, to the pastors and the elder (we only have one!), to those seated in the pews — what fragile and broken vessels were present in this little assembly!
Yet, despite this reality, which is certainly not unique to my fellowship but characteristic of the body as a whole (I Corinthians 1:26), we are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 not to neglect meeting together but to encourage one another. In other words, there can be no growth in Christian grace apart from communion with the saints. This command was written, most likely to a church in persecution in which some members were abandoning meeting together. Not only were they not being instructed but they could not exhort one another. As a consequence they were not being strengthened. They were missing out on mercies that will only flow through God’s chosen means, the church.
As wonderful as I’d like to think myself, I know that I am not exactly a bargain to the church God has called me. I come to the table with all sorts of weaknesses for which I am grateful my brothers and sisters don’t toss me out. And, despite all of the problems that I may be keen to identify in my fellow brothers and sisters, I won’t throw them out either. God has called us to unite in love in order to worship Him.
Weaknesses, errors, faults, problems — they are all pretty easy to detect. Everybody has them. But what sets the church apart is not our criticism of one another but rather that we are subject to a greater law – the law of love. Galatians 5:14 tells us, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I titled this post “Are you criticizing or interceding” because it occurred to me today that one of the greatest expressions of love for our fellow brothers and sisters is prayer from a pure and caring heart. In other words, if you see an area of my life where I falter or miss the mark, will you pray for me, or will you criticize me? If you discern a weakness, will you stand in judgment of me, or will you intercede on my behalf because you love me? Will you carry my burden for me to the throne of grace, or will you cast me aside? If I say something stupid and thoughtless, will you write me off or broadcast it so that everyone else knows? Or, will you cover me and pray for me? Will I do the same for you as my brother or sister in Christ? Will I treat you with charity and benevolence even when you are at your worst? Will patience and loving-kindness mark my dealings with you? Imagine treating the very bride of Christ with harsh and brute hands? I tell you one thing, I would not want to be the one to face God on judgment day having mistreated one of God’s own! And remember, according to Jesus it’s not just the action that matters but the heart. Just because you don’t say it out loud, thinking it is enough, for it is the heart that defiles a man and makes him unclean (Matthew 15:18).
I Corinthians 13:7 says “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Isn’t that the underlying principle that you want people to have in their dealings with you? Then let us, by faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, extend this love and grace to those whom God has called us to worship and labor alongside.