Focus for January 2022

For the Sake of Other People

Continuing our focus on Healthy Church, the 2022 theme for Equipper and our GCI media team is “Compelled by Love.”  The church of Jesus Christ exists for the sake of other people. 

 

I spent most of my life with an “us and them” point of view.  The main “us and them” concerned those who believed in Jesus and those who didn’t believe in Jesus – for simplicity I referred to these two groups as believer and unbeliever.  Believers were included; unbelievers were excluded.  But my erroneous point of view went beyond that.  I also believed in an “us and them” among those who professed belief in Jesus.  If you believed what I believed and followed certain commandments, I believed were more important than others, you were among the “us.”  If you strayed from what I believed was truth – at least my understanding of truth – you were among the “them.”  And we can go further. If you have a different point of view than me – politically, socially, genetically, environmentally – you could still be among the “them,” and not part of “us.” This distorted way of thinking can permeate every area of life.  What “us and them” comes to your mind?

Jesus entered an “us and them” world.  He was born into a Jewish family who considered all of humanity as Jew or Gentile.  You were either one of God’s called (Israelite), or you were “of the world” (Gentile).  But it didn’t stop there.  The Levitical priesthood believed they were “better than” because they had a special relationship with God.  Sadducees and Pharisees thought of themselves as “better than.”  Men thought of themselves as better than women.  The poor, the diseased, the mentally ill, and slaves were all considered “less than.”  This “better than” and “less than” way of thinking still permeates Christianity. Jesus came to turn all of this nonsense on its head.  In him there is no “better than” or “less than.”  Further, Jesus tore down many of the separations of “us and them.”  In many ways in Christ there is only us.  When we think missionally, however, we need to think of those who are not yet in Christ – the appropriate use of the term “them.”

The “Us” in Christ

The Incarnation is for all.  “For God so loved the world ….”  When John wrote this, he was making it clear God’s plan was for all.  All are included in his love, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation.  Most of us can quote Paul’s words to believers in Galatia that in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.  Eugene Peterson translated this in The Message:

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.  That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.  Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises. (Galatians 3:28 MSG)

Oh, if we only believed this.  Oh, if we only practiced this in our lives and treated all in Christ’s family as equals – without judging them by anything outside of who Christ is.  Imagine what we could do as the body of Christ if we believed we were all part of the one body, all forgiven the same, all loved the same, all redeemed and reconciled, all unified in our purpose to share his love and life to others.  What if we truly believed the truth of who we are?  And what if we believed this truth is also for all outside the body?

What if it were true that Christ did break down all man-made divisions and made us one in his plan of salvation?  The “one” refers to Jesus’ inclusive love for all, his forgiveness for all, his baptism for all, his death and resurrection for all.  When we understand Jesus is for all, would this truth change the way we look at those who don’t yet know him?  Absolutely.  Let’s ask another question: What if we truly believed that we are invited to be in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

What if you really believed you are totally forgiven, wholly reconciled, unconditionally loved?  In other words, what if you really believed you are who Christ says you are – his beloved – and that he lives in you? Would this truth change you?  What if you believed others are totally forgiven, wholly reconciled, unconditionally loved?  Would it change how you look at them?  Again, absolutely.  Knowing who Christ is and who we are in him changes everything.  Not only does it make us confident in who we are – our true identity – but it motivates us to help others understand who they are – their true identity.

The “Them” in Christ

Understanding who Christ is, who we are in Christ, and who others are in Christ, compels us to reach out in love and help others in their journey from not yet believer to believer. (Keeping in mind always that we are called to participate with Jesus in what he is doing.  We don’t save people — only Jesus saves.  He is the one who calls and changes others.  Our job is to love, and in that love to share his love and life with others.)

Here’s what Paul says about Christ’s love in us:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)

Notice the truth here.  We are convinced that Christ died for all – no exceptions – and therefore all have already joined Jesus in his death – again, no exceptions.  He died for all; therefore, we no longer view others as outside the plan of salvation and the unconditional love of Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul is reminding us to view others as those whom Christ loves.  Just because they don’t know Christ does not mean Christ does not know them.  This is where mission comes into play.  Christ’s love compels us to join him in what he is doing – to participate in his work of salvation.  We do this by telling those God brings into our lives that Jesus loves all of us just as we are.  Everything he did, he did for all of us.  He came for us, he died for us, he rose from the grave and ascended for us, and he will return for us.  This “us” includes all who are not yet believers – those who don’t yet know him.  Hallelujah, praise God!

One of the main purposes of the church is to help all come to understand the truth of who we really are – those whom Jesus loves, forgave and died for.  It is to help all understand Jesus redeemed us, was resurrected for us, and is reconciling us to our Father.  Once we grasp the truth, we are compelled to share that truth so that others can grasp the truth, so they can share the truth … you get the picture.  The church exists for the sake of other people – to help all understand who Jesus is and who we are in him.  It is to help not yet believers become believers.  Mission is about helping “them” become “us.”

Before we believed, we lived in the lie that we were not loved, not forgiven, not included.  We may have believed that Jesus died for others and not for us.  The truth (Jesus) sets us free to live in the reality of who we are in him.  This is good news we want to share with all.  That’s why we have set the theme, “Compelled by love.”  This is why the church exists – for the sake of all others.

 

Always amazed by the truth,
Rick Shallenberger

 

 

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