When consoling me about a church split before I moved to Chico, my mom said, “Church would be wonderful if it weren’t for the people…” She was pointing out through irony the fact that the body of our perfect savior Jesus Christ is in fact made up of imperfect human beings, yet at the same time, you cannot have a church without people, because church is a community (Greek ekklesia).
When you serve in any area of ministry, whether the place is a big ol’ megachurch or a teeny home fellowship, you’re bound to come across people who just get on your nerves. Sometimes it’s people who are bogged down in their mediocrity and have no desire to learn or grow. Sometimes it’s people who are bogged down in their carnality and have no desire to kick the habit and walk in freedom. Sometimes it’s people like me who come across as too busy to care so they just rush by you in the hallway on their way to fix some technical difficulty in the sanctuary, missing the tree for the forest, as if living by the Vulcan mantra, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…” (And if I’ve ever come across that way to any of you, I sincerely apologize!)
And sometimes it’s people who are so prideful and sure of their own rightness, who go around trying to conform everyone else to unanimity. Chuck Swindoll calls them “grace killers”, who are operating in their own strength rather than living by the Spirit. “Pride, which is at the heart of legalism, works in sync with other motivating factors. Like guilt. And fear. And shame. It leads to an emphasis on what should not be, and what one should not do. It flourishes in a drab context of negativism.” (Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, p. 84). So now we have both ends of the spectrum: slackers and legalists. Pastor Will said to me recently, “God uses all those types of people to refine us, to shape us, to teach us patience and to mature us.”
The statement, “If it weren’t for the people…”, redirects your focus and puts it on who is the Head of the church. It helps you to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about Him, and His wonderful gift of Grace! And therefore we can relax, because, as the Head, He is the only One who has the power to make all the parts line up.
When I read yesterday’s entry in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, I saw that he points out the difference between people who are saved and people who are disciples. It can be really frustrating when people just won’t change their lifestyle and actually behave like Christians ought to. But perhaps they’re not called to discipleship? And if so, it’s okay! The only requirement for us when it comes to Salvation is to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (see Acts 16:31, NKJV). Sure, it makes my service easier if they have the same vision for ministry, the same calling to purity, etc., but if they don’t, I need to just love them, and not take it so personally. The Call is between the Lord and His servant. There are no third parties involved.
Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16) … Beware of stopping your ears to the call of God. Everyone who is saved is called to testify to the fact; but that is not the call to preach, it is merely an illustration in preaching. Paul is referring to the pangs produced in him by the constraint to preach the Gospel. Never apply what Paul says in this connection to souls coming in contact with God for salvation. There is nothing easier than getting saved because it is God’s sovereign work–Come unto Me and I will save you. Our Lord never lays down the conditions of discipleship as the conditions of salvation. We are condemned to salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ. [That is, figuratively speaking, the Father dooms us to salvation when He judges us as holy through the lens of the Cross of Christ.] Discipleship has an option with it–“If any man…”
Paul’s words have to do with being made a servant of Jesus Christ, and our permission is never asked as to what we will do or where we will go. God makes us broken bread and poured-out wine to please Himself. To be “separated unto the gospel” means to hear the call of God; and when a man begins to overhear that call, then begins agony that is worthy of the name. Every ambition is nipped in the bud, every desire of life quenched, every outlook completely extinguished and blotted out, saving one thing only–“separated unto the gospel.” Woe be to the soul who tries to put his foot in any other direction when once that call has come to him. (Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, p. 33)