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We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21 ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 ESV)
Over the last couple months, it seems like I’ve had several reoccurring spiritual themes in my life — one being the role of the Church. In February, a book by N.T. Wright reminded me that we are a Kingdom people. Eric Bolger’s book on intercession reminded me that we are a kingdom of priests, called to mediate God’s blessings to the world. Two weeks ago, my church began a series on the Lord’s Prayer, using another of Wright’s books. Last week, the sermon looked at the phrase “Your Kingdom come,” and the teacher encouraged the congregation to think about tangible ways we can fulfill our role in God’s Kingdom work. This begins with prayer, as I was reminded yesterday afternoon by Bonhoeffer in his The Cost of Discipleship, but it doesn’t end there. What begins on our knees flows into our feet and hands, as we become the means by which Christ feeds His sheep. This dynamic was put beautifully by Drs. Cloud and Townsend in their Safe People:
There is a great misunderstanding today about the role of the body of Christ. When people are hurting they do not think of turning to the body of Christ as God’s agent to answer their prayers, to heal them, and to help them develop. We often want to pray and have God miraculously show up himself and make things different. We pray about depression or some character trait and want Jesus to appear in a white robe, touch us, and make us mature.
The incredible thing about this wish is that Jesus has appeared! He did appear on earth “in the flesh” as John 1 told us earlier. And in this appearance, he modeled for us the love we should have for one another, and he told us to become a body, or church, where we can know and experience his presence through union with him and with each other. It is in church that we fully know and experience his touch on earth today.
The problem is that we think he has abandoned us and that we can only truly touch him through mystical union. Although direct mystical spiritual union with God is certainly primary and important, the Bible does not separate our relationship with God and our relationship with people in his body. In fact it says that if we do not have good, loving relationships with people, we do not know him either (1John 4:20). What many Christians do not understand is that relating to each other is a spiritual activity.
We too often think of our spiritual life as just being with God, but he tells us that spirituality is a life of love both with him and with each other (Matt. 22:37-40). We need to include in our evaluation of our spiritual lives the question, “How am I doing with other people? How are my relationships going?” Often we get caught up in thinking that service is the only indicator that we are growing spiritually, when in truth our human relationships are always one of the key indicators of our spiritual life.
Jesus came down to earth not only to save us bet also to show us how to love God and others. The church often emphasizes our relationship with God and de-emphasizes our relationships with other people. But the Bible says that both are important; we really cannot have one without the other. (147-148)
When we encounter suffering, too often it seems we tell people to go to God, to pray more and read their Bibles. This is good, sound advice. But why do we stop there? Why do we not add, “Is there anything I can do? Would you like to get together and talk over some coffee? Could I bring you a meal this week? Can a call you tomorrow and see how you are doing?”
Isn’t this how we treat those we truly love?