I came across this quote by Charles Spurgeon: ‘Still, imperfect as it is, it [the church] is our dearest place on earth.’ It is a very beautiful quote which gave me pause.
At an intellectual level, one can agree with the sentiment expressed, but at a practical and personal level, I am not so sure.
If you were asked in an interview what the dearest thing is that you treasure on earth, would ‘the church’ be the first answer that popped into you head? Probably not. (Well, I’ll speak for myself).
Experience and observation tell me that many people have a love-hate relationship with the church. These are some responses I have heard:
‘I really love Jesus, but I don’t love the church.’
‘We don’t do church, it is full of hypocrites.’
‘My parents love the Lord, but they don’t really go to church.’
‘My husband is saved and he prays and reads his Bible, but he doesn’t see the need for church.’
‘I love the Lord, but I’m not really a people person, so church is very intimidating for me.'
‘They don’t do church anymore, but I understand, as they were really hurt by the church.’
I am sure you can relate to these variations on a theme and probably have your own version of negative church experiences or hurts.
Just so we are on the same page, the term ‘church’ refers to the people who make up the body of Christ, bought and redeemed by Him. Church is not a place or physical building. (Although church as a people does meet at a place or in a building).
Church is not a place to go to, it is a people to be with.
If Jesus were asked what the dearest thing on earth was to Him,
His first and only response would be ‘the church.’
Jesus’ entire purpose for coming to earth was to redeem a people for Himself; to save sinners and call them ‘His church’ and His sole motivation was love.
‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ [John 3:16]
‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.’ [1 John 3:16]
Everything that Christ came for, lived for, prayed for, died for, rose for, is preparing a place for, is coming back for, and is interceding for, is His church.
His church, that body of believers who are now family, brothers and sisters in Christ. Believers from all backgrounds, walks of life, social statuses, age groups, cultures, and ethnicities, brought together into this new family called ‘church.’
That is how the Gospel is displayed visually.
After Apartheid, the world latched onto South Africa’s slogan and ideology of a ‘Rainbow Nation.’ The church is where I believe we truly start getting that right.
That is why a Zambian girl, with black skin, can introduce, in all earnestness, a South African guy, with white skin, as her brother. Her peers are curious. Many scenarios flash through their minds. ‘How can this be?’ It is because they are family…in Christ.
That is why the young Nigerian girl in her 20’s gets curious questions about the South African woman in her 40’s whom she is friends with. ‘How can this be? What do you talk about?’ Her answer: ‘She is my sister in Christ. We talk about Jesus.’
That is why the church family is so gloriously diverse. It displays the beauty of the Gospel in a unique way. It points us to Christ, because no earthly ideology could achieve this.
That got me thinking about Ubuntu (pronounced oo-BOON-too).
Ubuntu is a uniquely South African term which the dictionary defines as ‘a quality that includes the essential human virtues, compassion and humanity.’ Ubuntu comes from the Nguni language and has several meanings which are difficult to translate into English but at the heart of Ubuntu is a ‘connectedness that exists or should connect between people.’
This is played out in acting in ways that benefit the community. Putting the needs and interests of the community before the needs and interests of the individual.
The church, Christ’s redeemed community and family, is a wonderful stage to display Gospel Ubuntu – the biblical ‘one anothers.’ It is outdoing one another in brotherly love. [Romans 12:10]
A community radically devoted to Jesus and unexplainably devoted to each other.
‘Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ [Philippians 2:3-4]
‘Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ [Colossians 3:12-14]
‘Be kind to one another, tender-hearted , forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ [Ephesians 4:32]
With Ubuntu, it doesn’t matter who you are in the community. Ubuntu requires compassion and serving others by virtue of simply being in that community or tribe. You don’t get to choose your community.
Transpose that into the church setting and Gospel Ubuntu shows forth Christ as the reason for our compassion and sacrificial love toward one another and our forgiveness of one another. We love the church because Christ first loved us.
It has to be Christ, because in what other community would you find such a mismatch of human beings caring for one another as if they were family, with bonds stronger than biological family bonds?
We cannot have a love-hate relationship with the church, because Jesus
doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with the Church and we are
in Him and co-heirs with Him. We are to love what He loves.
This is where Spurgeon’s quote takes on real significance.
If you were asked in an interview what the dearest thing is you that you treasure on earth, 9 times out of 10, I think the answer would be ‘my family.’ That is why the church is our dearest treasure on earth, because it is our family.
Family, not related by blood, but by the blood of Christ
That is an eternal bond, not just an earthly one.
But Spurgeon’s quote is even more telling in its disclaimer. ‘Still imperfect as it is…’
This is where we so easily stumble. This is the hurdle we struggle to overcome.
The church is still imperfect. It comprises messed up people.
We were imperfect and yet Christ chose to die for us.
We were messed up, and yet Christ chose to set His love on us.
Ubuntu is not measured by merit, but by need.
Gospel Ubuntu is never measured by merit or status, but by the fact that we need each other.
It is measured by grace.
That is why all the inspired NT letters to the church include practical ways to love each other more, to grow more in humbling serving one another and to be of one mind. Paul pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile their differences and bickering.
Christ, not man, is always held up as our example.
That is what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
In the church, we need each other as a family needs one another. Family cares. Family forgives, over and over again. Family thinks the best of one another. If one member of the family is hurting, we all hurt. Family rallies around one another. If one member of the family rejoices, we all rejoice. Everything we do affects each other.
We need each other so we can grow in love and holiness. Our sacrificial serving of one another, illustrates in a small measure, Christ’s sacrificial love for us. That brings glory to God, our Father. That makes the church family shining stars in a dark and depraved generation. No other community gets to do that.
The conclusion of the matter is this:
You cannot have Christ without the church.
You cannot love Christ without loving the church.
I need you and you need me.
‘The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."’ [1 Corinthians 12:21].
If we are not investing in the church, then we are hurting her.
Attending church is about a religious duty.
Loving the church is about a Christian's delight.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 that if we do not have love, we are clashing cymbals, we are nothing and we gain nothing.
We as a family were invited to a farewell for the 2 young girls in our church whom I mentioned earlier. One was returning to Zambia and the other going on a semester exchange programme to Australia.
As we sat in a room of people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds having an opportunity to share anecdotes and stories of how these 2 young ladies had impacted our lives in personal ways, I realised the beauty of the church family. These were all my brothers and sisters in Christ. We were connected. We laughed together and shared tears at the testimonies of evidences of God’s grace. There was love and unity abounding. It was humbling. Any of these people would climb mountains and cross rivers for me. I would willingly and sacrificially serve them.
This is my family.
This is what Church should look like. This doesn’t just happen on Sundays. Sundays are the weekly celebratory family reunion where we come together to corporately worship our Heavenly Father and to get a tiny glimpse of eternity.
It is not about rosters, programmes or schedules. It happens relationally, every day of the week.
The visit to the hospital. The meals provided. The phone calls. The hospitality. The conversations. Walking difficult roads with some. Discipling others and being discipled. It is knowing what your brothers and sisters need and where they are at and that comes through really getting to know them. These relationships are built day by day, moment by moment, not just on Sundays.
Family doesn’t wait for other family members to serve them.
This is Biblical ‘koinonia’ - sweet Christian fellowship.
This is Acts 2:42-47 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in practice.
It is interwoven in all Paul’s letters to the NT testament Churches, evidenced in his love for them.
This is Gospel Ubuntu.
The church is not perfect, and will not be perfect this side of Glory. But it is our dearest place on earth because, as sinners saved by grace, it is our family.