Welcome to another session in our Essential Engagement series. In this series, we are learning that discipleship is not just about “me and Jesus.” It must always be about “us and Jesus”.
In our last session, we introduced the Commitment to Others that Jesus requires. We discussed our motivation for this commitment, our call to love, encourage and serve others. In this session, then, we will build on this foundation. We offer some practical guidelines for engaging in this essential commitment to others.
1. A Commitment to Church
1.1. One Spiritual Organism
We begin with our commitment to fellow-believers, whom scriptures call the “body of Christ.” The Apostle Paul uses this phrase when he compares the church to our physical, human body. He says:
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
As in our society, Paul’s culture was radically divided by religion, nationality, gender, social status and many other factors. God seeks to break down these walls of division, especially among His people. We who follow Him must model the spiritual unity that He desires for the world.
Paul’s image of the body points to the vital unity of this spiritual organism. While we have many differences among us, we are united by One Holy Spirit, one Divine Spiritual Breath breathing through us as His Spiritual Body. With this Divine Breath flowing through us, then, our differences no longer divide us. In fact, they make us stronger, like the different parts of our body make us stronger. Expanding his analogy, Paul says:
“…God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:24-26
The bottom line is that we all need one another in this body. Together, as we each do our part, the body is stronger and more effective in the world.
1.2. A United, Physical Witness
On a spiritual level, then, God is working to unite a diverse people to do His work throughout the world. We call this spiritually united, but diverse people, “the church”. For us to be an effective witness, however, we cannot just be a church in theory. The church must take on flesh. This diverse people must assume an organized, physical form. This spiritual organism must embrace real people with real bodies, living in particular places and particular times. In these organized, local communities of real people, scattered throughout the world, God’s spiritual organism becomes a transforming, physical force in our world.
Sometimes we hear people say that they are “spiritual”, but they don’t believe in ‘organized religion’. On one level, I get their point. Organized religion has not always acted as faithfully as it should. We churches too often demonstrate the fact that we are not perfect. Our local church bodies certainly have their share of blemishes and flaws.
God, in His power, grace and mercy, however, has chosen to work through imperfect bodies, imperfect people and imperfect organizations to achieve His perfect objectives. Recall what Paul says to the church of Corinth:
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, see Jeremiah 9:23-24.
God is revealing His perfect, healing plan to a broken world though us, as broken and imperfect as we are, as living witness to His transforming power and glory.
So, then, we need to engage boldly and decisively with this imperfect, organized group of people, if we are going to do God’s work. We must pool the time, talent and treasure that God has entrusted to each of us to do His work together. That is God’s will and His way.
Let me ask you, then, what imperfect group of people are you engaged with. What local church do you belong to? We invite you to become part of the physical force of real change in our local communities. Become a member. Engage with us. That’s where all the fun is!
2. A Commitment to Family
2.1. A Parent’s Responsibility
As we meet together, then, as a local body of Christ, we immediately encounter multiple generations. Our essential commitment to others requires our commitment to these generations. We call this a commitment to family.
In the Law of Moses, we read this commandment for God’s people:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Like everything else the LORD gives to us, our children belong to Him as well. They are entrusted to us to raise them up in “the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Note the way in which God wants our home life to be a learning environment for these children. Everything we do — sitting, walking, lying down and getting up — should be a model for our children as to how they ought to live. We are therefore instructed to saturate our home with reminders of God’s truth, binding these truths to the modern equivalent of our door posts. (I am not sure what this might look like, but it probably has something to do with cell phones!)
2.2. The Church’s Responsibility
While parents, then, occupy the primary role of mentoring generations, other members of the church must likewise play a role. We live in a broken world where fathers and mothers are not always able to be the role models that God intends them to be. Some have passed away, and some, for all sorts of reasons, are no longer in the picture. And some, unfortunately, are simply not up to the challenge.
Throughout the scriptures, therefore, God shows a special concern for those who must live without a nurturing parent. In the language of the Bible, these children are often called the “fatherless”, but clearly all those without a loving parent in the picture are in mind.
King David, for example, writes:
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing….” Psalm 68:5-6
The New Testament continues this theme. The Apostle James writes:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
God’s repeated concern for those without loving parents must be reflected in our larger family of God. Even those of us without children of our own can and must be engaged in this ministry of God in one way or another. A few of these ways include:
- Growing Spiritually as a Parent
- Serving in Children’s Ministries
- Serving in Student Ministries
- Serving as a foster or adoptive parent
- Serving as a Mentor
- Praying faithfully for families
Since this commitment to families lies so close to the heart of God, every disciple must consider prayerfully how to engage in this essential ministry of Christ’s body.
3. A Commitment to Care
There is one more area of commitment that we must mention. In our previous session, we emphasized the fact that our love must take the form of action. As a local body of Christ, we must provide concrete ways to meet the needs of those who live among and around us. As we engage in these loving actions, we should keep the following guidelines in mind.
3.1. Discerning Genuine Need
First, we must discern genuine need, and minister to that need effectively. Paul reminds the church of Galatia to:
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
In our last session, we referred to the Great Commandment that Jesus Himself gives, telling us that all the Law and Prophets hang on the commands to love God and others as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40) The church must fight the self-serving, self-interested and self-obsessed forces in our culture. We must come alongside those who are hurting and share their burdens.
And, yet, because our culture is so broken, we must discern genuine from imagined need. Here we remember the instructions of Paul:
“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’” 2 Thessalonians 3:10
In other words, we must take care of one another without indulging one another. We must meet real need without enabling destructive behaviors. By working together, we can effectively pool our resources to make a real difference where real need exists.
3.2 Having Tough Conversations
This responsibility to discern genuine from imagined need raises another practical guideline in caring for one another. Sometimes this care requires tough conversations. When Paul tells the church at Galatia to “bear one another’s burdens”, he is making this very point. Look at the entire passage in context:
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” Galatians 6:1-5
Sometimes we have the unfortunate responsibility to challenge someone who is crossing lines that can damage themselves or others. In those instances, we must act, but, as Paul warns, we must do so “gently” and with humility. We must admit that we could just as easily be on the other side of these conversations.
Jesus gives us some instructions on how to have these tough conversations. He says:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
Here we learn that there is a progression in the way we have these conversations. We begin by challenging someone individually, and then, we take others with us. In fact, if the situation requires it, sometimes we bring another person with us during the first conversation, especially if safety or angry responses are concerns. If situations cannot be handled in these private conversations, however, we pursue the matter farther by getting a church leader involved. Depending on the situation, we can get a Ministry Leader, a Pastor or an Elder to assist us in the process.
If none of this works, however, we must regard them now as we would anyone else outside the church, as someone to be loved, encouraged, and challenged to enter Christ’s family the way that we all enter it, by bowing our knee to the one Lord and Savior, who is Head of this body.
3.3. Grieving and Celebrating Together
Our last commitment to care, then, emerges from this sincere desire to be united under this one Lord, grieving, and celebrating together as His family. Paul tells the church in Rome to:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15
By walking with others as they grieve the losses in their life, we share God’s comfort with them. As Paul reminds the Corinthians:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We invite everyone to prayerfully consider whether they can join the call to encourage one another through a caring ministry at their local church.
Because, in the end, we believe that God wants us to rejoice and celebrate with one another. Paul even makes it a command for the church at Philippi. He says:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
He also tells the church at Ephesus:
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20
Paul does not believe the world ought to have all the fun. We do not have to get drunk to have a party! We celebrate here, every week. Our joy is evident to everyone to attends. Every Sunday we come together to celebrate what God is doing in and through us. So, let me encourage you. Come on Sunday! Do not miss the party!
These then are a few practical suggestions for keeping our Commitment to Others. Our Essential Engagement requires a commitment to church, to families and to care. But God also requires that we engage outside the church, to those who have not yet found or returned to their Heavenly Father. Our Essential Engagement there also requires a Commitment to Mission, and we will address this topic in our next session. Until then, however, we pray that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Him.
- Write a paragraph describing why it is important for you to be a part of a local body of believers.
- What concrete steps can you take to support other families in their effort to raise their children well?
- Do not forget this week to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15