Ever walk in to a new church or Bible study and feel instantly at ease, like you belong? My husband and I move a lot. As a result, we’ve spent a lot of time as newbies in local churches. I’d like to say that this has always been a welcoming experience, but most of the time it’s taken a few months to break in. I’m not sure if we had to “prove” we were really Christians, or maybe there was just a level of superficiality that had to be penetrated. Regardless the reason, it always struck me as odd.
The other day my brother-in-law told me about a family reunion he and his wife went to. They met throngs of people they had never seen before–family they didn’t even know they had. And yet, it wasn’t awkward. They didn’t have to pull out their birth certificates and marriage license to prove that they did indeed belong. They were instantly swept up in the latest chatter of how “Grandpa Filbert lost his leg”.
And yet, our churches remain cold and distant. So why is the secular world doing a better job of showing brother love? I think it’s because we don’t truly understand what it means to be part of the body of Christ. We’re family. And what does family do? They accept one another, quirks and all. They stand up for one another. They protect one another. (You can’t bash and protect at the same time, even if it’s under the guise of “sharing prayer requests”.) They honor one another above themselves. And you can’t do any of those seated in the pews. To love one another as God intended, you’ve got to get off your rump and reach out. (Ouch! I’ll work on that.)
We love to spout those verses that talk about love, and are quick to remind each other that others will know us by our love, but somehow we’ve added qualifications and confines. I’m loving…to my spouse, and my kids. Hey, I’ll even offer to help my neighbor out once in awhile. The one on the right. The one on the left? Now that’s a different story. They’re a little too confrontational for my taste. My brothers and sisters in the church? You mean my church, right?
We often excuse our behavior by telling ourselves that the new couple sitting at the end of the pew doesn’t want to be bothered. Or perhaps we’ll remind ourselves of our to-do list, and put off saying hi until next week, and the week after that. In the end, it all comes down to pride. And self-love. Our fear of rejection overpowers our love for other. We’ve put a spin on Paul’s admonition to love others above ourselves–we love ourselves above others. But if we were at a family reunion and our cousin from our dad’s side twice removed showed up, how long would it take for us to extend a welcome?
Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. (Uh-oh! You mean my plastic smile won’t cut it?) Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. (Devoted? You mean offer up my parking spot, right? As long as they stay at our church. Once they switch churches I’m absolved of responsibility, right?) Honor one another above yourselves. (Unless it cuts in to my comfort level.) Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.