Dr. Rosaria Butterfield was a professor of English and Queer Studies at Syracuse University. She described herself as being happy in the monogamous lesbian relationship which she had been in for a decade, but like the rest of us, she was blind to the truth about God, and headed toward an eternity without Him. Then God placed a believing couple, Ken and Floy Smith in her life. They started meeting weekly to study the Bible with Rosaria. When she became frustrated with the message of the Bible and wanted to be done with God, it was the real friendship and love of the Smiths that kept her in the scriptures. As Rosaria put it, in an interview with Focus on the Family, Ken and Floy Smith were the hands and feet of Christ to her. Over time, God used the love of the Smiths and the message of the Bible to completely change Rosaria’s heart. She now loves and serves the Lord, as well as those she once hated.
In November, I started this series of blog posts with one entitled Why so much Division and Hatred in our Country? I looked to the Bible for the reasons that we are seeing so much hate, division, and violence in our country, and the answer was clear; our nation has a heart problem. In fact, according to the Bible, every human being is born with evil in their heart. We are all naturally selfish and rebellious, and if this natural tendency is not dealt with, it will eventually produce the evil actions that we see plaguing our world today. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t stop there.
In the post Born Blind, we saw how we are born blind to the evil (sin) in our own hearts, blind to the spiritual powers of evil that want to keep us deceived, and blind to the God who we will all have to give account to someday.
In The Only Lasting Solution, I shared the amazing truth of God’s plan to redeem (rescue us from the penalty of our sin) and reconcile the human race with Himself. We glimpsed at the unfathomable depths of God’s great love as He made the greatest sacrifice ever given: God in human flesh (Jesus Christ) dying on the cross to pay for our sins! And we saw real life examples of the powerful, lasting heart change that happens when Jesus touches people’s lives.
Then in the post The Solution in Us we saw what God’s heart change actually looks like in our lives; the blessings that flow from that change, and how God in turn uses our changed lives to change the lives of others. In this final post, we are going to explore in more detail what it actually means to be the “Body of Christ,” as the Smith’s were to Rosaria.
Now if I were making plans to save the world (simpleminded as I am), it would have seemed quite obvious to me to have the triumphant, all powerful Lord Jesus who had just beaten death after rising from the dead, stay here on earth and win the hearts of the masses over to himself. Undoubtedly, Jesus back powerfully teaching in the temple, coupled with the countless healings he did every day, would have captured the attention of even more people than it did prior to his death. Yet, God’s ways are not my ways, and God has chosen “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; … the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). So instead, God chose us, average, every day believers in Christ, to take his life changing message to the world! You see just forty days after Christ’s resurrection, he ascended into heaven (Acts 1) and removed his physical presence from this world… or did He?
Ephesians 1 Speaks of how after Christ’s ascension, God the Father seated Christ at His right hand in heaven and “placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (verse 22-23). We see from these verses that God calls the Church (all people who truly trust in Christ, not the buildings we see) “his body,” and that the Church is “the fullness of him...” This means that it is God’s plan for the Church to be the full expression of Christ here on earth. That when someone wants to see what Jesus is like, they should be able to look at believers in the church, and see walking, talking, examples of what Christ is like. It means that when Jesus in heaven wants to give a loving embrace to a hurting person, he will chose your arms to give the hurting a hug. You see, God has chosen to continue the life changing ministry of Christ here on earth, through the church. Notice, however, that He has not left us alone in this. For as the head of the body, Christ is directing everything, and He is supplying us believers with incomparably great power (Ephesians 1:19) to accomplish all His purposes.
As part of His body, we also have other believers working alongside of us. 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 both describe the “body of Christ” and how it functions. We see that it is the plan of God for believers to work together and that he has specially designed each one of us for a special function within the Church. In fact, He has given every believer a “Spiritual Gift” (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4), a supernatural enablement, that helps believers to perform a particular part of the ministry that Jesus did when He was on earth. For example there are gifts of prophesying, teaching, serving, encouraging, giving, leading , showing mercy, and more (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-11). No one believer possesses every gift, but added together, the church possesses the full ministry of Christ. These gifts are given to each believer, not primarily for their benefit, but for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Throughout these passages in Romans and 1 Corinthians, we see two very important themes running together; diversity and unity. Diversity is seen in the different gifts and purposes God has given each believer. No other believer is quite like you, with your mix of abilities, gifts, and experience; positioned in your job, neighborhood, or family to minister quite like you can. Yet, we are all united through the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. This same Spirit of God that communes continually with God the Father and God the Son, lives in each of us believers, and it is this Spirit that bestows upon us our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
Unity is so very important to God; it is part of the divine nature, and it is God’s plan for us believers. For Jesus himself prayed to God the Father about all of us who believe in Christ, “that all of them [believers] may be one, Father, just as you are in me [Christ], and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me [Christ] (John 17:20-21). This prayer blows my mind because Jesus’s desire is for us in the church to share the same oneness with each other as is seem in the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit)! There is diversity within the Trinity, but they are One in purpose and Spirit so much so that the Bible declares that there is One God, though He is three. In the church, God has created much diversity, but he calls us to be one, while maintaining the diversity He put in us. How far short of this we often fall! But, in the second verse we see that as believers, we also have the awesome privilege to be invited into the Oneness of God “May they also be in us”- Wow! In heaven someday all believers will be one and will live with God. Hate and racism will be gone forever. But the Oneness spoken about in John 17 is for our time now on this earth! Because we are “in Christ,” we are connected to the source of infinite power. Through Christ’s power we can in the here and now achieve oneness in our churches, and verse 21 tells us, that this will cause the world to believe in Christ!
Now when it comes to reaching our world with the message of Christ, there is another great power which goes hand in hand with unity, and this great power is love. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the body of Christ is followed immediately with his great chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love was so much a part of Jesus’s ministry here on earth. It was the reason He came to us and His love drew people to Him like nothing else. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is a description of how Christ loves us- He is patient, kind, humble, gentle, self sacrificing, other focused, slow to anger, forgiving, and the list goes on. We need to memorize 1 Corinthians 13 and Romans 12:9-21 and then put them into practice in our lives, and we WILL make a difference for Christ!
So what does all this look like practically with in our local churches? Well, the Spiritual gifts we discussed earlier boil down to sharing God’s Word with others and loving them. For those who come through our church doors, the ministry team typically does a good job of sharing God’s Word, so those of us in the pews need to focus on truly loving these people. When strangers attend a church service, they ought to be greeted by more than just the pastor, no matter how different they might be from us. If newcomers chose to keep attending, those of us in the congregation should make a point to keep talking to them, and to get to know them a little better each Sunday. Each member of the congregation should consider it their duty to actively look for needs amidst those who come through the church doors each Sunday, and to find ways to minister to others when needs are identified.
There should be no favoritism or “clicks” in church (James 2:1, 9). No one person is to be considered better than another and certainly racism and prejudice are not to be tolerated. The apostle Paul states in Galatians 3:28 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Bitterness and resentment likewise should have no place in church; we all need to bear with each other in love and be quick to forgive (Colossians 3:13). Church should be the one place opposing people groups can come together in peace and love each other. The Apostle Paul stated (referring to the hostility between Jews and gentiles) in Ephesians 2:14, that “[Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." Our churches need to be havens of safety and love, a place where those who are in need can find help, where sinners can find grace, truth, and love.
Unfortunately, most people who need Christ’s love and the message of the Gospel do not come through our church doors, so how do we reach them? Well a good starting point is to look for ways to meet people’s needs. We need to follow Christ’s heart, and his heart is for the poor and helpless, the broken hearted and the hurting. This is much more than volunteering at a soup kitchen once in a while (although that’s a start). We need to develop friendships with those outside our church. We need to visit our neighbors, learn their names and their children’s names, and get to know them. Then when their car breaks down, or their kids need baby-sitting, or their mother gets cancer; we can be there for them, to love and care for them.
If we are at work or at school, and see injustices done, we should stand up for those who are wronged; especially those who have no one else to defend them. Psalm 35:10 says “O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?” And of course the Bible says in James 1:27 that the “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their destress...” These are some of the most broken hearted people, and God’s heart really breaks for them. In our day and age there are more broken homes than ever. There are many who are functionally widows and orphans, as spouses and parents leave or neglect the physical and spiritual needs of their families. As Christians though, we have a great opportunity to be the fathers and mothers to these kids from broken homes; to come along side parents who are at their wit’s end. More believers need to serve as foster parents, to adopt, or to just invest in the lives of our children’s friends. Even just taking time to make conversation and show genuine interest in children when you are at a friend’s house for dinner, can make a difference in those children’s lives. Just remember how Jesus wouldn’t let the disciples turn away the children from Him.
Finally, I believe that we in our local congregations need to be proactive in reaching certain groups within our culture. As just mentioned, we need to find ways to reach the youth in our neighborhoods. As mentioned in an earlier blog, we need to take steps to reach out to the Hispanic community and other racial groups in our area. We need to take time to learn their language and culture. We need to invest in prison ministry, and visit hospitals (Matthew 25:36). As the refugee problem grows around the world (even though the number coming into the United States is dropping temporarily), we should look for ways to be ready to provide for them when the opportunity arises. As the population of Muslims increases in this country, we should learn how to reach out to them and other religious groups.
Though we may not be comfortable around or even fear some of these groups, it doesn’t change the fact that God loves them very much and has called us to reach out to them and welcome them into our midst. It makes it all the more important that we take the time to prepare to minister to these groups. Jesus wants us to understand the people we are reaching out to, what their needs are, and how to best communicate His love to them. This is very true when reaching out to the LGBT community, for much of this community sees us as hostile to them, and they scare many within the church. Yet, these too are people Christ deeply loves, and even if the opportunity to minister to them has not yet arrived for our church, we should start preparing, and start praying for them. Dr. Rosaria Butterfield has some great insights into the LGBT community which can help us to start to understand them and their needs. I encourage you to check out her interview with Focus on the Family (Part 1, Part 2), and the story of her conversion: My Train Wreck Conversion. No matter whom you are trying to reach for Christ, investing time in true friendship, coupled with loving hospitality will go a long way.
Along these lines I will share a few quotes from Rosaria-“If your words are stronger than your relationship, they are going to ring as hate in a world that doesn’t understand of deep and abiding Christian value.” “Your neighbors who identify as LGBT who come to Christ are now going to be refugees from a community that understands hospitality in ways (from her experience) that put Christians to shame.” She shared that in “the LGBT community, homes are open every night for food, fellowship, and for standing between you and suicide.” She made the challenge that “The gospel has to come with a house key; every Christian house has to be ready to receive refugees…” As Christ’s body, our homes need to be open so that the world around us can see the loving hospitality of Christ pouring forth.
Conclusions and Final Thoughts
As believers in Jesus Christ, as the church in America, we have the only true and lasting solution to hate and racism; to the pain, hurt and sorrow all around us. The lost and hurting will find the help they truly need from nowhere else. We see our world trying to fix a nation’s heart problem by removing monuments and kneeling at football games while we have the real solution- Jesus Christ! The nightly news should not discourage us; rather motivate us to reach our world with the Gospel. Now is the time for each one of us to fully give our lives to Christ. Each of us needs to be in prayer daily asking God how He is specifically calling us to serve in his body as he changes the hearts of our nation.
Yet, as we endeavor to be the hands and feet of Christ, we must remember that it is Him who changes people, not us. When we slip up, fail, and fall short, (I personally so often fall way short of what Jesus calls me to be!), God still loves us more that we can fathom! God’s love for us is not based on our performance. Similarly, if we fail to share the gospel, it does not mean that someone will fail to make it to heaven. That is a burden we are not meant to bear, because we are not the ones who save people. Our Great and sovereign God alone can open blind eyes to the truth of his Gospel and give people new hearts through the power of His grace. We should strive to share Christ’s love and gospel because we love Christ who has so greatly loved us, and because we love the people around us whom Christ also loves. Jesus assures us that all those whom the Father had given Him before the dawn of time would be kept safe; not one of those who are his will be lost (John 10:28).
This should motivate us to pray for the salvation of people in the world all around us, especially those who seem most unlikely to be saved. For no one’s sin is too great to be out of the reach of God’s great grace. The Gospel and the plans of God will prevail, and through Christ’s power the Church will change the world in 2018. (Check out what God has been doing through Middle Eastern believers in the midst of great persecution, in the Focus on the Family’s interview with Tom Doyle about his book “Standing in the Fire”) Right now we have the awesome privilege of being part of God’s great work to end sin and reconcile man. It is just a matter of whether we will join Christ in his amazing work or not. As believers we need to make sure we don’t get to heaven and find out that God had to keep moving us out of his way as we stood blocking the path of His unstoppable plan!
Yes, following Christ will cost us (Matthew 16:24), and we can expect persecution along the way, but Jesus has promised us a much greater reward (Mark 10:29-30) and nothing will compare with hearing from our Lord the words “Well done, good and faithful servant! (Matthew 25:23)
In Ezekiel 22:30 the Lord sadly spoke these words about the city of Jerusalem and his people: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” May this not be true of our country! May our church build up the spiritual wall in this country and stand before the Lord on behalf of our land!
Likewise, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it says: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…” May the one who is fully committed to the Lord, whom he strengthens, whom he uses, be you, and be me!