Win Friends and Love People

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
Win Friends and Love People
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In God’s kingdom we don’t need influence over others so let’s just win friends and love people.

In our 40th episode, the Three Failed Pastors talk about a church mission statement that requires no interpersonal control. It’s our job simply to win friends and love people for his sake who loved us.

While it’s our 40th episode overall, it’s only the 16th installment in our current series, “Recovering Faith” where so far we’ve argued that the gospel rescues us from the clear and present danger of cultural corruption and internal personal corruption, leading to interpersonal breakdown. And it rescues us by transferring to us the faith of the Son, so that living by the faith of the son, by sonship faith, we have the resources to live free personally and live in free and loving community with one another.

Last week in Episode 15, we said that some common healthy expressions of cruciform love and resurrection faith are: corporate prayer, gospel rehearsal, and loving confrontation.

“Win Friends and Love People” Episode Notes:

Ministry is my second career. I used to be a UPS delivery driver. In some ways I think I was a better disciple back then. Even though I spent most of my time in secular activities I was always looking for an unbeliever to convert or a fellow Christian to connect with. I remember delivering a package to an office and glancing down at the desk and across the man’s keys. His keychain had three words on it that knocked my head upright, “Releasing spiritual leaders.” I asked him what it meant. He said it was his church’s mission statement.

I left his office reciting those three words under my breath. I contemplated them through the rest of the day. I recognized the name of my customer’s church. It’s one of the largest in our area. Having grown up Baptist in the church-growth era, I knew that large churches result from inviting not releasing. Attendance records and visitation all aimed at retaining, not releasing. I understood church as centripetal, but here was a church that had boiled its purpose down to three centrifugal words. How could a church grow so large by investing its energies into individuals who it would then send away?

This mission isn’t a PR stunt either. Their founding pastor once told me, “Whenever our best people leave, we say, ‘Mission accomplished.’” Over their history, they have developed leaders who’ve gone on to start ministries and churches. They have spent millions of dollars to establish those efforts and then completely released them under their own independent leadership.

For all their sending leaders and even whole segments of their congregation away, they have continued to grow. I think God has blessed them for their faithfulness to him. I also think sincere disciples are repulsed by the stench of institutional self-interest and this church offers them a breath of fresh air.

By most metrics, this church is a testament to the benefits of a well-crafted and faithfully followed mission statement. They’ve consistently grown in numbers while devoting their energies to the development of their members who they hope to send away. That kind of church doesn’t happen every day. While I’ve never been a member there, much of my ministry career has been in their orbit. Because of their example, I’ve attempted to articulate a clear mission statement in every ministry or church I’ve led. I haven’t yet come up with anything so compelling, though.

At my breakfast with the founding pastor, I told him the keychain story. He let me know that those three words were shorthand for the whole mission statement which goes:

To produce and release spiritual leaders who know and express the authentic Christ to Northwest Arkansas and the world.

About Us | Fellowship NWA

Somehow knowing the whole thing took some of the magic out of it, but I thought it was still great. I asked him how he came up with it. He told me that it was just the Great Commandment and the Great Commission compiled and expressed in more vernacular language. According to the church’s website:

…we seek to love God and love others by making disciples. We’ve established our Mission and Vision on these Biblical mandates and let that vision drive all that we do.

When he told me that, I realized that while this church has brilliantly articulated their mission, it’s essentially the same as thousands of other church mission statements around the world. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, for instance, has simply adopted these two famous passages as their mission. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment seem to focus the church on external growth and internal health. No wonder these churches have achieved results.

God’s mission statement

This all begs the question, “Out of the whole Bible, why these two passages?” It does seem that Matthew highlights them as particularly important. For instance, he records Christ as saying that the whole law hangs on the commands to love God and neighbor. The Great Commission lands on our ears with the weight of the final word. I don’t question the importance of these instructions, but I do question how they’ve come to such dominance in the way we formulate the mission of the church.

Maybe we should begin by asking, “Who are we to formulate the mission of the church in the first place?” There’s a presumption in writing a church mission and vision. If Christ really does have all authority in heaven and on earth, shouldn’t we defer to him? Someone might rebut that the Great Commission is his mission for the church but that doesn’t seem to be the case. He has commissioned us to make disciples, but that instruction was given to a collection of individuals rather than to the church as a whole. It’s individuals who go, baptize, and teach. The same can be said of the Great Commandment. Organizations don’t love; people do. When we apply those instructions to the church, we countermand Christ. We nullify his word to individuals and coopt them for our organization.

Crafting our church mission from passages we select from scripture won’t do. It requires visionary dreaming on the part of the leader/leaders. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words almost in anticipation of the megachurch phenomenon:

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.

He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.

“Life Together”

These words ring true even when the dreamer constructs his vision from passages in the Bible. Even in the healthy examples I’ve cited, the mission of the church defines faithful participation. Leaders celebrate members who participate in the church’s program for making disciples. Members whom God has called to a different approach must operate against the tide. Wherever humans craft the mission of the church there will be human control. We mustn’t use scripture as raw materials from which to build our own church.

We need to understand the purpose of the church as it springs from the gospel of God. Thankfully, the New Testament articulates this purpose:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Ephesians 3:10-11 NIV)

Unlike the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, these verses explicitly state God’s purpose for the church. God means to display his wisdom to heavenly beings through the church. That’s God’s mission statement for the church, but we’d rather synthesize one of our own. Surely church leaders know about this passage, but they look elsewhere because this one doesn’t inspire buy-in. God’s mission as written here doesn’t capture our attention like, “Releasing spiritual leaders” did for me.

Does that mean the pastor up the road is a better organizational leader than God? Maybe it just means we resonate more easily with human thinking than with the divine. As we will see, we aren’t compelled by this mission statement because it’s too big for our human expectations.

To begin to perceive the significance of God’s mission statement we’ll need to examine its context. In doing so, we’ll find that God’s mission for the church is based on a mystery and expressed through a prayer.

The revelation of the mystery

I confess the idea of heavenly rulers saying, “Oh wow,” when they look at the church does nothing for me. I don’t give their opinion (whatever “they” are) a second thought. From my perspective what God puts on display matters more than who will see it. If God counts the church as a personal achievement, it must be truly glorious.

Such was the glory of God’s church that he veiled her beauty for long ages until the time came for her big reveal. Notice the anticipation in Paul’s words:

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

(Ephesians 3:2-5 NIV)

People couldn’t discover God’s mystery on their own. It had to be made known by revelation. Even after its revelation it remained obscured to those without insight. This mystery had been hidden from all generations to await its revelation by the Spirit. What truth could merit such a build-up or require such rare insight? Surely this mystery concerns the very nature of God or the basis of existence!

After the long ages of waiting, Paul makes his readers wait no longer. He plainly tells them the mystery:

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

(Ephesians 3:6 NIV)

Does that seem like a letdown? Chances are you’re a Gentile. If you consider yourself a Christian, it’s probably because you responded to an invitation to put your faith in Christ. I’m sure nobody told you that you had to be included in Israel to be saved and you’ve probably never thanked God that he included you there. In preaching the gospel, Paul shared his birthright with a bunch of unwashed pagans. It was a big deal to him, but the pagans might have even taken it for granted. In his pre-converted life, Paul saw an insurmountable divide between Jew and Gentile. Now through the gospel, that partition had disintegrated and blown away. Based on faith, God has included Gentiles in Israel without requiring them to become Jews.

The inclusion of the Gentiles was Paul’s theme and ultimately the reason he suffered such persecution. But the mystery is deeper still. We weren’t just included in Israel; we were all made members of one body. To make two people groups into one nation is a major feat but knitting them into one body is a miracle. This is no détente. It’s a deeply intimate union based on ultimate sameness and redeeming inherent differences. God means to show his wisdom to the heavenly authorities by uniting people across every human divide into one.

This union is at the very heart of the gospel as Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-28:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

(NIV)

Christ supersedes all human distinctions to make us one. Such unity has long been a human aspiration, but never a human accomplishment. Our sin and lust for power have kept it out of our reach. We mistrust each other and keep score. Nobody in the fray that we call life has the wherewithal to create unity, so God must do it. This is why Paul’s reflection on God’s purpose for the church sent him into prayer for them.

The view from the floor

God has worked through the long ages and in Christ to bring people together across every divide into one body. He did this to demonstrate his manifold wisdom to the heavenly rulers. It seems like a lot was riding on the Ephesians coming together in unity. The stakes were so high that they drove Paul to his knees.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

(Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)

Christians need to do more than accept the mystery of the Trinity, they must participate in it. Just as God is three persons in one being, so we are many members in one body. Just as God is love, so we in one body are rooted in love so we can grasp the scope of his love and come to an intimate knowledge of it. Love isn’t a free-floating virtue. It only exists in relationship. God is love because God is a relationship. His love takes residence in us as it is expressed among us. The church is called to become persons in loving unity and so we become filled with God’s fullness.  

This union is the work of God. If we want it, we must join Paul on our knees. We must call on our Father to strengthen us with his Spirit so that Christ will be reproduced in each of us through his faith in our hearts. Christ in me must actively love Christ in you so his love can grow until it consumes every other motive and knits us into one. This is God’s calling for the church and he will carry it out. We just need to stop messing it up.

Paul goes on in Ephesians to write:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

(Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV)

We can’t create the unity of the Spirit. God has already done that. Also, our unity is predicated on realities over which we have no control. We are one because “There is one…” All we can and must do is “make every effort to keep” the unity that is.

And it will require our every effort because coming together across cultural, racial, gender, socio-economic, and ethnic divides will afront the prevailing regime. Our old friends will come to hate us for hanging out with “those people,” and those people will make us miserable with their strange habits. It takes strategy, creativity, and charisma to pursue human mission statements. To fulfill God’s calling on the church, we’ll need to employ humility, gentleness, patience and longsuffering. It’s not very sexy on the ground, but this unity is what God celebrates.

Any vision for church beyond God’s purpose will undermine our call to keep the unity we’ve been given. For a while, we may put up with those backward members who refuse to take this thing to the next level, but we’ll eventually deem them liabilities which Christ’s cause will be better without. Then we’ll choose the work of our own hands over his handiwork. While we celebrate our ministry accomplishments, the Spirit will weep, and the heavenly powers will scoff.

More than One Body, One Flesh

The image of the church as Christ’s body pervades the Ephesian letter, but then Paul mixes in the idea of the church as Christ’s bride. And he doesn’t even do us the courtesy of transitioning out of the-church-as-Christ’s-body before broaching the-church-as-Christ’s-bride.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

(Ephesians 5:28-32 NIV)

So, husbands should love their wives as Christ loves his bride the church which is the way everyone loves their own body since the church is Christ’s body.
Huh?

My Bible has a heading before vs. 21 of Ephesians 5 that reads, “Instructions for Christian Households.” The NIV translators put that there because Paul in this section is borrowing from a common genre in the Greco-Roman world called, “household codes.” It was common for philosophers to demonstrate the practical outworking of their ideas by prescribing rules of conduct for various members of the household.[2] The heading is accurate but would be more accurate if Paul hadn’t jumped onto a tangent. When seen as instructions on how husbands should treat their wives, this passage quickly becomes confusingly circuitous. But Paul tells us that his primary focus at least by the time he gets to verse 31 is the profound mystery of Christ and the church.

The profound mystery to which Paul refers harmonizes the idea of the church as Christ’s body and that of the church as Christ’s bride into a central idea – One Flesh. The church is both his body and his bride because of the prophecy contained in Genesis 2:24:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

(NASB95)

Christian premarital counseling always includes a section on “leave and cleave” which teaches the importance of the new couple distancing themselves from their respective families of origin. I suppose that’s fine, but the Jews didn’t do that. The man would build a bridal suite onto his parents’ home and move his wife into it. That disparity could be problematic if this passage was primarily meant to establish marital norms. It doesn’t seem that Paul saw that as its primary meaning. What looks like an axiom once again gets interpreted as a prophecy through the Christological hermeneutic.

“A man” who is Christ.

“Will leave his father” and join humanity through the incarnation.

“And his mother” in death on a cross.

“And be joined to his wife” in one inheritance and destiny.

“And they shall become one flesh” through one Spirit.

God became flesh in Christ. Through the Spirit, God remains flesh. The church is the continuation of the incarnation. We aren’t “like” his body. We are his body. Since we were made to be united with Christ as his companion and partner, we have become his bride. Again, not “like” his bride. The church is the extension and companion to Christ. We can only be both through this mystical union called One Flesh. He experiences our pleasure and pain because we are his body. We offer our bodies for his pleasure and in doing so receive pleasure in return because we are his bride.

As Paul said, this is a profound mystery.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t experience it right now.

True and proper worship

We offer our bodies for his pleasure. That sounds sexual. That’s because it is. If Paul was right about Genesis 2:24 pointing to Christ, then the sexual union points to the One Flesh mystery of Christ and his church. This doesn’t mean that the church has sex with Christ or anything as crass as that. It means the One Flesh union includes mutual pleasure. In the creature-creator relationship, this happens through worship.

If you’re very familiar with the New Testament you might have recognized the phrase “offer our bodies.” It’s from a well-known verse that goes like this:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

(Romans 12:1 NIV)

This verse has always been just out of my reach. How could I offer my body as a living sacrifice? Without a clear idea as to its application, I’ve defaulted to thinking it must be some sort of inner commitment to give God everything should he wish to collect. Or it could be a decision to serve him in some dramatic way should he lead me there. I would “put myself on the altar” through some private decision in my heart.

Yeah, that’s not what it’s talking about.

This verse opened to me when I realized that it’s tightly connected to what comes immediately before. Paul first connects it by using “therefore.” Then he specifies that his instruction to offer our bodies comes “in view of God’s mercy.” Romans 12:1 is based on something about God’s mercy which can be found in the preceding chapter:

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their (the Jews’) disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

(Romans 11:30-32 NIV)

By God’s mercy, we Gentiles have been included in Israel. We must consider Paul’s call for us to offer our bodies from that perspective. This isn’t some personal choice to devote ourselves completely to God but the fulfillment of Israel’s cult of worship. Just as the Jews would come to the temple and offer a sacrifice, so we now come to the temple and leave a gift for God.

During his earthly ministry Christ called his body the temple. For centuries, the pre-incarnate Christ who was known as The Presence dwelt in Israel first in the tabernacle and then in Solomon’s temple. In the incarnation, God the Son took on flesh and tabernacled among us. His body became the temple. Since we are his body, we are also the temple. In view of God’s mercy, then, we must offer our bodies to his body.

It just so happens that Romans 12:3-8 depicts worship at Israel’s true temple:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

(NIV)

God has given me the faith of Christ, but I’m not its only recipient. I’m part of a body of people in whom Christ dwells. If Christ dwells in this body, then whatever I offer to its members I offer to Christ. As someone in whom Christ dwells, I offer his gifts to his people on his behalf. Because we are his body which is God’s temple, God receives our gifts as “holy and pleasing.” Because he truly indwells his people by his Spirit he truly receives the gifts they offer to one another. While physical Israel worshiped God in symbol, our worship is true (aka “real”) because he truly benefits from the gifts offered to him through his people.

Christian worship can’t be reduced to singing. Just as with Israel, worship requires an offering. We worship in Spirit and truth when we as Christ’s body give our gifts to Christ’s body for God’s pleasure. Worship might be the offering of a song to encourage God’s people. It could also be paying our sister’s water bill or cleaning our brother’s house. If we limit worship to an event that happens once per week, most of the body of Christ will never obey Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:1. However we express the kingdom of God through the visible church, it must encourage and facilitate the full expression of the gifts through the daily life of the community.

The two will become one.

In Ephesians 5, Paul quotes from the Septuagint translation of Genesis 2:24 which specifies that the two will become one flesh. The Hebrew texts say, “they will become one flesh.” Paul obviously used both the Hebrew and the Greek Old Testaments, but the latter seems to serve his purpose better in this case.

As we’ve seen, Paul’s thesis in Ephesians is that through the gospel Jew and Gentile, the two, come together into one people of God.

Not only do Christ and his church become One Flesh, but in the union, all other twos become one. 

Consider the following passage:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:14-18 NIV emphasis mine NAW)

It seems that Paul understood Genesis 2:24 as a promise of unity between humankind. The union between Christ and his church finds its earthly expression whenever two people lay down their differences to join his one new humanity. The church fulfills God’s ancient vision in Christ through her unity. Nothing matters more. In a culture of throw-away relationships, the world needs to see Christians who stay together.  

A couple of years ago, a family left our church because some of the members were Trump supporters. They felt they couldn’t be associated with such “evil.” I lamented their decision. I considered them spiritual family and then they were gone. I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t know what to say.

I know now.

If I had another chance, I’d point them to Romans 15:1-3:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

(NIV)

Paul had no idealistic notions about his fellow Christians. He knew how costly unity would be. He knew that participating in a group of transforming people would mean putting up with their shortcomings. He knew that membership in a group of flawed people would come with guilt by association. But we’re not too good to be dirtied by our brother’s misdeeds because Christ carried our sins and bore our shame. Going to church with Trump supporters is what Jesus would do. Leaving because you don’t want to be associated means you’re better than your Lord.

We’re not moralists; we’re Christians. We keep loving our spiritual family even when we have moral objections to their actions. When most of our fellow believers behave so poorly that the name, “Christian,” takes on reproach, we continue to wear that name and identify with those people. We do this because nothing we do as individuals will ever measure up to the mystery of One Flesh. In that mystery, the “two” across every human divide come together into the “one” who is Christ. In him, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Democrat nor Republican, vaxxer nor anti-vaxxer, black nor white, poor nor rich, male nor female, conservative nor progressive. Those labels may continue to describe us, but they won’t define us. Nor should they affect the way we treat one another.

The One Flesh must be paramount for the Christian movement because it is God’s mission for the church. Every other vision must fade to bring this one to the fore. As One Flesh with Christ, we offer pleasing worship to God. As One Flesh with each other, we demonstrate God’s glory to every spectator in heaven and on earth. After all, Christ said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Sadly, we never get around to becoming a famously loving group because we always find a reason to distance ourselves from one another. This must end.


Blame You

Christ’s commands us to love each other. It’s such a simple rule and yet we can’t do it without him. This is why he calls it a new command even though it was the one the Jews had heard from the beginning. Christ came to love and he left a community of love which he expected to remain and spread. Praise the Lord it has! On the night of his betrayal, Christ prayed that we would be one so that the Father would be glorified in the Son.

Conversely, this world and its Prince continue to conspire against God’s project by sowing bitterness among God’s people. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns his audience to forgive quickly lest they give the devil (blamer) a foothold among them. Nothing arrests our progress toward oneness like bitterness. When a fellow believer does something careless or even malicious (as will inevitably happen), we must at the foot of the cross offer them forgiveness. Why? Because mercy lives at the foot of the cross. In order to harbor bitterness, we must abandon the hope of our own forgiveness and flee the cross for exile in the solitary seat of judgment. In that realm “they” come to offer us aid and comfort as they help us build our case against our offenders and eventually the entire world.

Though this demonic program carries especially grievous implications for the believing community, every person on the planet has encountered it. The animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons,” offers one of the most poignant examples of the dynamics of bitterness and its power to ruin lives. At the end of the clip, the advice, “Let it go and keep moving forward,” is useful if we can understand where we can let it go to and which direction is “forward.” Those answers have been released in the gospel of Christ.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-jiK3Qob2c&w=420&h=315]