Because this has become so involved and because it involves a number of compelling matters, I’ve decided to present it in three installments. Some readers may have been playing along with my frivolity in previous posts as I’ve let the points trickle out. I apologize for this nonsense. Don’t know what got into me! Now, in the interest of ending the suspense, here’s the scoop: I’m proposing that, as it pertains to kingdom living, being a W-3 community involves these three things:
(1) Being a Welcoming Community
(2) Being a Witnessing Community
(3) Being a Working Community
The Lord willing, I’ll post parts 2 and 3 in the days to follow. Here’s the first installment:
More-and-more I am being convicted that one a major emphasis of my ministry should be to encourage others in the area of kingdom living. It’s not that I haven’t always been inclined this way. It is, however, that this is becoming a burden on my heart—something I feel compelled to do.
An important discovery that I’ve made recently has helped me immensely in this regard. It has to do with Paul’s language in his letters to first century followers of Jesus. Let me sum it up as briefly as possible.
The language of the apostle with respect to followers of Jesus is quite telling. You see, the Roman Empire, especially the geographic area under its dominion, would be thought of by the common person as “the body politic”. Over this realm – this empire – this kingdom – the emperor would be thought of as the ruler, the head. The typical Roman would think of the emperor is head of the body politic.
Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the body of Christ over which Jesus is Head he is speaking volumes to the people of his day. Yes, this literary device serves him well in describing the inner workings of the Christian community. But, more than this, Paul’s use of language that speaks of Jesus’ emerging dominion as the body over which Jesus is Head is, essentially, just another way of communicating the idea of kingdom. So, it is entirely appropriate to apply principles laid down concerning kingdom-living and life in the body of Christ interchangeably.
Another thing—one of far greater importance—also needs to be understood. It is this: The most compelling force behind our conduct as Christians is and must be Jesus Christ. When everything is said and done, this idea can not be stated any more directly than the way Paul stated it in 1 Corinthians 11:1. Here we read: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Now, let’s think about just one example of this as we begin to think about being a W-3 Community. Matthew 11:25-30 reads as follows:
25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.
27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So many things could be said about this text. Here’s the point for now: Jesus is the revealer of the Father and no one knows the Father except those to whom Jesus chooses to reveal him. This reality begs the question: Whom does Jesus choose? He doesn’t state it explicitly, but we may easily infer from Jesus’ statement in vs. 28-30 that the door is open wide for all who are weary and burdened and willing to take up Jesus’ easy yoke. What a great invitation! What a welcoming king we have in King Jesus!
That leads us to the first “W” in being a W-3 Community….
(1) WE ARE TO BE A WELCOMING COMMUNITY…
A key passage regarding this idea is Romans 15:5-7. Here we are told:
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Three key practices which will enable us to fulfill this calling are:
a) Love— When we get a handle on this idea, we have already traveled very far down the road to becoming what God wants us to be. In fact, Jesus said that the world will know that we are His disciples if and when we obey His command that we love one another! (See: John 13:34-35) In a sense followers of Jesus are supposed to be God’s perpetual welcoming message to the world. When people look for God, they look first for the people of God. If we are being a welcoming community, many will exclaim “Eureka” in our midst! Well, maybe they won’t do that. But, people will know they have found God when they are met by His welcoming committee!
This is underscored by the words of 1 John 4:7-12, where we read, “7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” If we take following Jesus seriously, we will do more than give lip service to this idea. We will love one another with actions and in truth.
b) Acceptance— There is no doubt in my mind that we have a long ways to travel in order to become the kind of accepting community that God wants us to be. We live in a political climate that is dominated by red state vs. blue state philosophies. Many of us live in places that seem to be fixated on whether or not people are insiders or outsiders. We live in a culture in which many people feel unaccepted and excluded from the mainstream simply because of their nationality, religious heritage, skin color or gender. Our treatment of one another is far too often influenced by appearances rather than what fills an individual’s heart. Every person who crosses our path in life should feel the welcoming acceptance of God who values each and every soul and sees grand possibilities in every person’s life.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is the way that Jesus treated the infamous woman in John 8. She somehow became a pawn in hands of the scribes and Pharisees as they sought to keep hold of their tenuous hold on power. You can just see the looks of contempt and condemnation of their faces when these self-absorbed hypocrites thrust her into Jesus’ presence. There she stands before the whole group. They’ve put her there in a futile attempt to trip Jesus up in something that He said.
We know the story well, don’t we? Jesus silenced her accusers by making their hypocrisy obvious to all. In doing so, Jesus didn’t compromise any of God’s precepts. But, He accepted this precious soul and made it clear that she could go forward from this point with her head held high. Have you ever imagined this scene? Stones fall to the ground. Men with convicted hearts and bowed heads dejectedly slink away from the site of their presumed triumph.
Contrast this with Jesus conversation with the woman. After her accusers were all departed, “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” Have you ever thought of just how tenderly and sensitively Jesus treated this woman? When others saw her only as a means to advance personal agendas, Jesus affirmed her worth by talking with her instead of pontificating over her. In spite of her obvious and glaring sins, she was accepted by Jesus. When it comes to the kingdom of Christ, the welcome mat is always out! May God help us learn this!
c) Forgiveness— Remember: love is keeps no record of wrongs! (See: 1 Corinthians 13:5). As we read in Ephesians 4:32, followers of Jesus are instructed by the Apostle Paul to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” As I get older, there is something that troubles me more-and-more. (I really am getting older. The youngest of my four children is now a high school freshman. But, I digress.) What’s the thing that troubles me? I’ll not beat around the bush: It is bickering amongst believers.
This troubles me for two reasons, actually. First, because it just seems so out of place. How can those who are supposed to reflect the love of God do so while fussing with one another? This just seems so ridiculous, doesn’t it? The second reason it troubles me has to do with my own culpability. I’ve done my share of grumbling and grudge-holding. I wish it wasn’t true. But, it is. I’m guilty. I’m truly sorry for ever having done so and by God’s grace and for God’s glory I am devoting myself to living differently in the future. Do I have any other choice?
The problem is the world is full of implacable people. It is as though the golden rule has been remixed to read: Do unto others before they do unto you. Perhaps this is a bit cynical. I’ll concede this possibility. But, the barriers which surround so many people and people groups make me wonder about this. What the world needs is light shining from the hilltops revealing the path to a better way. Wouldn’t it be great if there were whole communities of people that have laid aside the pain from past offences and forgiven one another just as in Christ God has forgiven each one of us? Forgiveness is not only a specific act it is a frame of mind. No! That’s not it. Our hearts must be conditioned properly in order to be forgiving people. That’s why the verse says just as in Christ God forgave you. May God help us learn how to forgive!
Well, that’s it for the first part of this series. The first “W” stands for: WELCOMING!
As followers of Jesus Christ each of us should intensely inquire of ourselves whether or not we are “welcoming” followers of Christ. A thousand questions could be asked. I invite you to struggle along with me in reflection on these:
– Am I one of those people who merely “talks a good talk” about loving others? Or, do others experience the love of God flowing through my words and actions?
– Am I characteristically a harsh critique of others? Or, do others experience God’s gracious acceptance flowing through me?
– Is my life consumed with keeping tabs of wrongs I’ve suffered? Or, do others experience the liberating power of God’s forgiveness flowing through me?