Summary: Helping a church remain healthy in its relationships requires paying attention to the "one anothers" of the Bible. (Sermon series originally published in Proclaim! The Journal for Biblical Preaching)
August 26, 2001
These things I command you, that ye love one another. John 15:17
Stop the first one hundred people you meet on the street and ask them this question: What¡¦s wrong with the church today? You will get plenty of answers!
It¡¦s so easy to criticize what others are doing. If you look diligently enough you can find something wrong with everything. A farmer¡¦s neighbor was so negative, criticizing everything and anything. The farmer bought a new plow, the neighbor said it would rust soon. The farmer remarked how it was good to have more rain this year, and the neighbor lamented that his crops would rot at the root with all this rain. It went on ad nauseam.
The farmer determined he would find something to cheer up this bottomless pit of despair. He went out and purchased the finest hunting dog, and secretly trained him to fetch by walking on the water, instead of swimming.
When hunting season came the farmer invited his sour neighbor to go with him. When the first flock passed by, the farmer and his friend shot several ducks each. The farmer yelled to the dog, Fetch! The hound darted, his feet barely skimming the surface of the lake. He scooped up four ducks from the water and was back in an instant, dry as a bone. How ¡¦bout THAT? questioned the farmer. Remarked ol¡¦ sourpuss, Cain¡¦t swim, can he?
Well, the church is something else altogether. We ought to judge the church at its best, not its worst. The church¡¦s best are the ideals and principles upon which it was founded by Jesus.
If we are honest we can see that most churches are 98% wonderful. The other 2% we manage to mess things up. The problem is that unbelievers, and even critics within, focus on the 2%, and not the productive 98%.
„Ñ It is wrong to judge all ministers by the few who fall into gross sin.
„Ñ It is wrong to judge all deacons by the few who do nothing, or just cause trouble.
„Ñ It is wrong to put all members in with the hypocritical few who aren¡¦t faithful to their Lord.
Jesus addressed his disciples, with the command (the word means to point out the goal), to love each other. To love means to seek another¡¦s highest good. Our goal is to find ways to lift each other in the church. That puts us at a fork in the road. You can criticize, or you can build up, but you cannot do both.
Love...as Christ also loved...
A deeper study of how to love one another is contained in Paul¡¦s admonitions concerning the marital relationship. It¡¦s words catch the true spirit of Jesus¡¦ command. The passage deals with marriage, but we can see how Paul points to the relationship that brings blessing, the church family.
Jesus loved the church (us); and He saw much potential for good in each of us. He called us branches of his own vine. In fact, the word member is synonymous with the Latin root for limb. Each of us who are members of the local church, and the body of Christ, is a limb. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. The Lord expects to see fruit produced. He wants us to be great limbs, bearing wonderful fruit.
Now, as any gardener will attest, a crop must be cultivated. It doesn¡¦t just happen. I love the story of the preacher who decided he¡¦d buy a farm to be his "get away." The price was right, but the place was run down. He spent months fixing fences, the house, and pulling weeds. In six months the place was transformed.
Having spent all his time repairing, planting and cultivating, the preacher didn¡¦t have time to meet the neighbors. When he finally did meet his neighbor, the man remarked how he¡¦d heard a preacher man had moved into the old place. Then he to pointed to the tired minister¡¦s new improved house and lands, and said, It¡¦s wonderful what the Lord can do with a hunk of land, ain¡¦t it? Said the pooped preacher, I¡¦m not so sure, you should¡¦ve seen what the Lord was doin¡¦ with it before I got here to help.
Churches are like that. We are a collection of branches, and the Lord can certainly grow us, but there is also some cultivating that needs to be done. Given the right circumstances, attitude and care, the church can be grown and built up like a vineyard.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; Eph 5:25
Jesus sees that kind of potential in you and me. We are the embodiment of the heart of Jesus Christ. That heart is filled with all kinds of good things. What kinds of things? Notice what pieces of the heart of Christ you will find in the New Testament church: