By Stephen Howard, Next Gen Pastor
If you have kids, you understand the importance of routine. Things appear to run more smoothly when expectations are clearly known, and a rhythm of life is established in the home. Yet for some reason, when the routine of a child is interrupted. . . something changes. It is as if the rules and expectations for behavior suddenly get thrown out the window. In my home growing up, there were clear rules and guidelines for appropriate behavior at the dinner table. However, as soon as the unusual guest arrived, I mistakenly felt those rules were no longer relevant and suddenly became unruly and disobedient; as if the guidelines for obedience changed with routine. This is why parents must constantly remind children in unusual circumstances of the expected behavior, regardless of the environmental changes. In the same way, the Lord reminded me this week of his expectations for the body of Christ. More importantly, he reminded me those expectations do not change during times of crisis. What are those expectations?
In Ephesians four Paul admonishes the church to press on towards unity in the body of Christ. The passage read this way,
“Therefore I [Paul], the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit- just as you were called to one hope at your calling- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, CSB)
We see in this passage God’s expectation for his people is for them to preserve unity; this unity implies a belonging. The wonderful reality is when each of us were adopted into the Lord’s family we became brothers and sisters to one another. Certainly, the primary emphasis of salvation is belonging to God (Eph 1:14) but we should never neglect the reality that belonging to God also means we belong to one another as the body of Christ (Rom 12:5, I Cor 12:12). In other words, we should and must love one another because God has loved us (I John 4:19). As Joseph Hellerman once said, we cannot be sons and daughters of God without also embracing the church as our brothers and sisters.
There is a similar command seen in Hebrews 10:24-25,
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25, CSB)
The early church never viewed this command as optional but understood belonging to the church was accompanied with a serious commitment to one another (Acts 2:42-47). Moreover, this commitment was not conditional on external circumstances, or geographical location in a time without zoom, facetime, or cell phones. Paul demonstrates this unwavering commitment to the church by finding ways to encourage and love them both from prison (Phi 1:7) and from far away (I Thess 2:17-20).
What does all this mean for us? A few things: The first thing it means is we should recognize we are not so different from children; in that we often are tempted to think the expectations for obedience change in the midst of abnormal circumstances. We should take notice of this and recalibrate if we have given ourselves to this temptation. God’s expectations and commands have not changed, even though our circumstances have. God’s plan is for his children to demonstrate commitment to him by being committed to loving and encouraging one another; this has not and will not change. The second thing we can takeaway is that the church is a body not a building. It would be to the detriment of the church to believe we are no longer able to encourage one another simply because we are not physically gathering. How foolish would it be to assume we should no longer be intentional in loving one another and promoting good works (Hebrews 10:24) because we are not currently able to gather together (Hebrews10:25) when it is in fact the opposite. Now, more than ever, we should be working to encourage one another and help each other cling to Jesus because we are not able to physically gather.
In conclusion, I hope you will not grow weary in seeking out community (Gal 6:9) and isolating yourself (Prov 18:1) but instead labor to love the church well during this time, remembering we are a body not a building. How will you live worthy of your calling (Eph 4:1) this week by loving others well and working to remain in community?