Many of you know our family spent the last week in El Salvador. While there, we worshiped with another church, served at an orphanage, and helped facilitate night crusades. In each of these events, I was struck with how different the culture was from ours, and I’m not talking about music or food choices. The biggest difference? The El Salvadorans took the idea of a spiritual family very seriously. When they said, “She is a sister in Christ,” they meant it. You could see their deep love for one another in their eyes. You could hear it in their tone. But most importantly you could see it in their actions. If you belonged to Jesus, you were family. Plain and simple.

That’s not true here in the states. We have learned to be independent and to focus on ourselves. We train our children to do the same. More often than not, we see to it that life revolves around them–their social schedule, their sports schedule, whatever. Oh, perhaps we’ll ask them to give up an hour out of their seventy-two hour week (not counting sleeping time) to help with an outreach event, but what does that teach? Honestly, it might help exacerbate the problem by reinforcing the idea that service is done on a time-schedule. When it fits in. Friends are convenient, for our pleasure. (Here’s an article explaining this in more detail–and how we can counter this self-seeking trend.)

This temporary friendship mentality has trickled into the church. How often do we drop gospel tracts on someone’s door, never to see them again? Do we really think those people will somehow appear in our church because of a slip of paper? Or when  a new couple comes to church, we’ll offer our friendship and invite them to dinner…until they become established, then we move on to someone else.

That’s not friendship and that’s not a body. That’s a temporary prosthesis.

And here’s the deal. By conforming to our westernized, individualized culture, we’re losing out on one of the biggest draws of the church. Our love for one another is meant to draw others to us, which in turn is meant to draw non-believers to Christ. I believe they’ll come for the relationship first, and will be exposed and drawn to Jesus in the process.

So here’s the challenge. How do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ? According to the Bible, they are your family. More than that, they are part of a living body. If you struggle viewing them in this regard–in truly loving them as Christ loves the church, ask God to help you and find ways to get out of your comfort zone. Find ways to connect.

Second, focus on long-term. No one likes to be a project. When you reach out to that new couple or leave a gospel tract on a doorstep, ask yourself, “Am I ready to be here for them for the long haul or am I just trying to ‘get them in’?”

Because people can tell the difference. One type of friendship draws them and creates a place of safety where they can learn about Christ. The other type of friendship results in increased distrust.

I’m speaking to myself here. I’ve experienced many “temporary friendships” in the church, and honestly, it’s left me a little gun-shy and distrustful. But I have to remember it’s not about me. Yeah, chances are those people I reach out to are going to hurt me. Chances are they’ll ditch a year or two down the road, but the Bible tells me “as far as it depends on me….” meaning, it’s not my concern how others respond to my love or friendship. My concern is living out my faith with full surrender, letting God’s love flow through me moment-by-moment.

This mentality also applies to how we do missions, which I hope to touch on tomorrow or Thursday.

In the meantime, spend a moment in prayer and ask God to show you faulty thinking in regard to the body (not just your church body, but all believers world-wide). Then be diligent about cooperating with God. When you catch individualistic thinking creeping in, take your thoughts captive and reroute them.

About a decade ago, the church we attended experienced a split. I don’t need to go into details, but before long, the entire congregation was a buzz of negativity and polarization. Lines were drawn that never should have been drawn and the cancer became contagious. What started as a difference in opinion between two leaders opened the door for criticism in every area of ministry. And for a moment, I grew confused. I wondered if perhaps God was calling my husband and I out of the church. Were we to join all the others following pastor B? As I took it to God in prayer, He helped me see the bigger issue and the root cause of our church’s disunity. Satan had wiggled his foot in and was working to throw the door wide open. How would Satan destroy the church? How would he weaken our witness? By getting us to lash out at one another.

I’ve written about this before, but it appears, it’s worth writing about again. Lately I’ve been bombarded by barbs hurled by Christians at other Christians and I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:25, …”Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (NIV)

Now granted, I’m taking this verse out of context, but the principle applies just the same. In our home, the moment I start to bash my husband, I invite division. My heart turns against him, bitterness simmers, and my daughter is left to choose sides. And on my husband’s end, his effectiveness is hindered by turmoil and distrust. Not the ingredients for a happy household. But even worse is what it looks like to the onlooker.

We’ve all heard 1 Corinthians 13. This passage is so popular, it’s often quoted in secular media, and when witnessing to others, Christians use it to explain the love of God. Yet, sadly, we rarely live it out.

 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Oh, we love our family. We love our friends. But that church down the street? We spew nasty comments so fast our tongues get whiplash. Then we justify our actions by thinking that’s not our family. Our family attends Holy Trinity.

Funny, I don’t think God has the same view of family. Nor do I think we understand the role of the body of Christ. Our family extends far beyond our church walls. As a writer for an international ministry, I’m often aware of my dependency and responsibility to the WHOLE body of Christ. Our pastor may give a sermon that influences my writing which in turn influences a believer in India who in turn influences another believer.

So when I bash another believer or their ministry, whether part of my immediate church family or the far-reaching body of Christ, I’m rebelling against 1 Corinthians 13 and proving myself a liar.

Perhaps you’d agree with what I’m saying, to a point…. But what happens when you disagree with someone else’s methods? Not message, mind you, but methods. There is a difference. And here’s the sad truth: we spend way too much time debating methods and way too little time sharing the message. What kind of music should we have? What kind of novels should Christians write? How should pastors lead their youth group?

That’s not to say there won’t be times to help initiate change. We live in a rapidly changing culture and therefore must continually adapt. However, a rule of thumb I’ve always followed: Don’t complain unless you a) have a solution to offer and b) are willing and ready to be part of the solution. Otherwise, you’re just part of the problem.

Before I go, I’m going to leave y’all with one more passage. Chew on it for a moment, and commit to honor God with your mouth. Commit to support your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world, looking beyond the pew in front or behind you. Commit to being the body–one body, one church, ruled by one Savior who died for us all.

James 3:9-12

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)

Here’s my parting question: Is your witness, verbal and behavioral, contagious or cancerous? The next time you’re tempted to bash another believer or their ministry, remember what’s at stake. We’re Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with His soul-saving gospel. With so many people living in darkness, is there time to hurl insults at one another? Our time would be much better spent clamping our jaws shut and getting busy on those things that make an eternal difference.

(You may want to re-read a similar post published last December entitled A Venomous Tongue.)