Are you cold, indifferent, angry, frustrated, intolerant, castigating or hostile towards your local church? Or are you warm, concerned, involved, sympathetic, committed, patient, and full of love, grace, hope and peace, in your relationships and dealings with your brothers and sisters in the blood-bought congregation of God?
A Pauline Concern
Paul’s own personal response to God’s people seems to have fluctuated with the ups and down of the churches, over which he was given charge, and to which he was bound with cords of compassion and love.
A Pertinent Text
The giveaway text comes at the end of the letter of 2 Corinthians. The Achaian congregations, contained many of his harshest critics. In this epistle, like no other, for the sake of the progress of the Gospel, and Corinthian spiritual growth, he has to defend His ministry repeatedly, from false accusations and disparaging charges. Yet, like a parent deeply involved with happenings of their children, when the Church is progressing nicely it causes Paul to sing, but when the congregation goes bad it forces Paul to lament.
“For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish – that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity and sexual immorality and sensuality, that they have practiced” (2 Corinthians 12.20-21)
A Personal Union
Paul responds like this, of course, because of his union with Christ: it is the Holy Spirit within, who reflects the mind of God, which colors his conversation and character, in his dealings with the Churches. When all is well in the church the Head of the Body is pleased; but when things deteriorate and decline, in the House of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is grieved.
This much-put-upon, belittled, leader cannot help but look through the contact lenses of Christ in concern at the conduct of God’s Church. This loving mindset is not exclusively restricted, confined or limited to Paul. This apostolic attitude of sympathetic involvement, in the progress of God’s People, is meant to spill over to local pastors, church members and covenant children. Once again, the reason is not hard to detect – all true believers are also in union with Christ. Paul’s concerns, therefore, increasingly, should be every Christian’s too! As they grow in their sanctification, by the grace of the Gospel, the burdens of Paul and concerns of Christ, will lie progressively more heavily upon their hearts, minds and prayers.
A Popular Standard
In his comments on this passage Calvin, in familiar manner, sums up the matter well, and drives the practical application home:
“Every Christian shall have his Church enclosed within his heart, and be affected with his maladies as if they were his own – sympathize with its sorrows, and bewail its sins …It is, indeed, a thing that is common to all the pious, to be grieved in every case in which God is offended, and to bewail the ruin of brethren, and present themselves before God in their room as in a manner guilty, but it is more particularly requisite on the part of Pastors.”
A Practical Answer
Such bright torch-light of Scripture shines, rather searchingly, into the recesses of our minds – the Word of Christ uncovers uncomfortable hidden motives that lurk deep within our hearts. As we reflect on how far short we fall of wholehearted sympathy with the churches we attend or serve, we ought to be led into contrite confession and forsaking of all worldly, selfish, carnal, criticism and aloofness that has, more often than we care to admit, snuck up upon us unawares. Too often when things in the congregation are bad we are compromised and glad. More frequently than is comfortable to admit, when things are going well we manage to spot a hole to pick. May God grant us grace to reflect upon Paul’s heart, and forsaking self-harm of God’s House, seek the sympathetic mind of Christ.