What is the nature of the church? Over the past few weeks we have wrestled with this question. Last week we saw what it meant for a church to be the centre of worship of the living God. This week we will dive into what it means for a church to foster nurturing relationships.
At first glance this doesn’t sound very exciting at all. For the most part it seems that many people would rather limit the exposure of the relationships they have rather than expand them. Many people are just doing all they can to survive in this world and this is quite enough to overcome, let alone adding the responsibility of nurturing others along the way.
Most of us have enough problems of our own to deal with. Why should I be concerned with all the problems that others have? Some of their problems are incredibly complicated and messy. Aren’t there professionals to help with that kind of thing anyway? Why would the church need me? I’ll just do my own thing.
Building and body
Throughout the Bible there are five major metaphors that describe the relational nature of the church. In every case we are told that relationship is the essential component that makes church what it is.
1) The church is like a building or temple that God is constructing for His glory. Each member of the church is considered to be a living stone that is being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood. The chief cornerstone for our building is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is the one from whom we find our place and alignment as we are all being built up together into something beautiful and purposeful.
As a building, each stone is in relationship with other stones as well as being in relationship with the chief cornerstone. If a stone is missing there is a hole in the building. If a stone is out of alignment with the chief cornerstone, the walls of the church will become bent and crooked as new stones are added. How we are related to each other and to Christ in this building is very significant.
2) The church is like a human body where each member of the church is a member of the body of Christ. The head of the body is Christ and we are the various members that make up the entire body.
The apostle Paul goes to great length to describe this metaphor. He makes it clear that we are all members of each other and that each member of the body is very necessary to the whole of the body. Unity with distinction and unity without uniformity within the body is an essential element of this metaphor. We are all one body but we are not all just one member.
In other words, not all of us can be the eye. Someone needs to be the ear and someone needs to be the foot. But without the eye the foot would not know where to step, and without the foot the body would not be able to go anywhere.
Each member of the body has its essential role within the body of Christ. Again, we see that relationship within the church is essential for the whole body to be able to function properly in a healthy way.
Flock, vine and marriage
3) The church is like a flock. We are all the sheep of His pasture and Jesus Christ is our Great Shepherd, protecting the vulnerable flock from ravenous wolves. Each lamb is important to the Shepherd. In turn, all the sheep know their Shepherd and when they hear His voice they follow Him.
In this metaphor Jesus is also seen as the gate to the sheepfold. He is the way to safety for all the sheep as we enter into His care through Him.
4) The church is like vine in a vineyard where Jesus is the vine and we are the branches of the vine. Through this metaphor we are instructed as branches to abide in the vine where we can find nourishment and refreshment and fruitfulness.
In this metaphor Jesus is also seen as the vinedresser who prunes the vine for maximum growth and fruitfulness. Again, as long as we are in relationship with the vine, who is Christ, we will remain in good healthy relationship with each other and with God.
5) The church is like a marriage where Christ is the groom and the church is His glorious bride that He is preparing to marry. This is perhaps the most beautiful of the metaphors. As the future bride, the groom is preparing us to be ready to be married to the dashing groom who has loved us so much that He laid down His life for us.
There is no greater picture of chivalry than the picture of the groom’s love for His bride. As the bride of Christ we are all members of each other while He is our loving betrothed. As the blushing bride we should be preparing ourselves for the wedding that is to come when the groom returns through pursuing righteousness and purity.
Again, we see the close association between the members of the church as the bride of Christ along with our relationship to Christ who is our loving groom.
World of relationships
With all this focus on relationship within the church it is no wonder that the Bible is chocked full of encouragements to foster loving relationships within the church. There are well over 30 “one another” passages within the Bible.
Over and over again we are told that we who belong to Christ should be nurturing each other within the church: love one another (occurs over 13 times), be devoted to one another, honour one another, live in harmony with one another, stop passing judgment on one another, accept one another, instruct one another, agree with one another, wait for each other, have equal concern for each other, serve one another, do not provoke or envy one another, carry each other’s burdens, bear with one another, be compassionate with one another, forgive one another, speak to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, submit to one another, do not lie to each other, encourage one another, build up each other, spur one another on toward love and good deeds, do not give up meeting together, do not slander one another, offer hospitality to one another, clothe yourself with humility for one another, be kind to one another, don’t grumble against one another, confess your sins to each other and, lastly, pray for each other.
Wow, that is a whole lot of “one anothers”. But what a world it would be if we practised these things with each other. This is a picture of what the church should look like as we come together as the body of Christ. But none of these things can take place if you aren’t there.
Perhaps you say: “I know I should be a part of the church but I always end up being hurt or disappointed or disillusioned with what goes on with all those people there.” Yes, it is risky and potentially dangerous to put yourself in the vulnerable position of loving others. They might not return your love. Others might misunderstand your attempts to love. Misgivings and misunderstandings are certain.
Wouldn’t we all just be better off without risking all this pain and frustration? The simple answer is no. You would not be better off separated from the very vehicle that God has ordained for your spiritual growth and maturity.
How can a foot remain healthy if it has been cut off? How can a branch bear fruit if it has been severed from the vine?
Paul wrote that the church exists “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places”. It is only through the church that we can find and understand the wisdom that God has for each one of us.
A true community
For some of us, it just seems counter-intuitive and dangerous to intimately associate with a church. Isn’t there another or better way? Apparently not. It is the church that God has chosen to use to bring His people together in a special nurturing relationship of blessing.
So as members of the church through faith in Christ we need to start practising these “one anothers” more completely and thoroughly so that we can continue to become the beautiful creation He is making us into.
What part of the body are you? Are you abiding in the vine becoming more and more fruitful, or have you cut yourself off? Are you listening to your shepherd or are you wandering off again? Are you a living stone being built up into something beautiful or have you “left the building”? Are you getting ready for the groom to return or have you soiled your wedding gown again?
He is coming again and He will be here soon. When He comes there will be a wedding feast like no other. At the wedding banquet He has prepared a place for you at His table. I hope I get to sit next to you.
– Reverend Bradley S. Belcher is the senior pastor with the International Baptist Church of Budapest, www.ibcbudapest.org. Should you have a question or comment regarding this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.