I often struggle to transition from idle chatter to more meaningful conversation. Being a naturally reserved person, I find it easy to retreat into the comfort of small talk or silence. But the New Testament continually reminds me to exhort and encourage fellow Christians, so I have an obligation to care for others. Not only am I obligated, I’m compelled by the gospel.
Church relationships are vital for every Christian. Scripture has no category for an unchurched Christian, so to be a Christian is to be in the church, both globally and locally. And the local church manifests itself in the relationships between its members. Through these relationships we maintain our faith, and through them we grow into the image of Christ.
Our faithfulness to Christ depends on exhortation from others in His body, and we deceive ourselves if we think we can stay true to Him apart from His church. Hebrews 3:13 commands that we “exhort one another while it is called “Today,” lest any of [us] be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Our regular interaction with other Christians is a God-ordained means for our perseverance. He uses both encouragement and correction from His people to keep us true to Him.
Not only do we stay true to Christ through church relationships, we are also shaped into His stature by them. Ephesians 4 depicts this process of corporate growth. Together we grow into Christ, our head, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” In this, Christ is the source and the end of our growth. We grow through Him, and we become like Him. But the channel Christ uses is the church. We each do our share, “speaking the truth in love,” so that we together mature into Christ.
A Gospel Culture
A gospel culture is fundamental for healthy church relationships. God’s grace must be a regular feature in our preaching, discipling, and daily interaction. Knowing Christ as our only hope, our only glory, frees us from the pressure of performance. As clichè as it seems, security in Christ’s love enables genuine relationships with others.
The gospel also imbues us with a common attraction. We come together, not because of any natural draw to each other, but because of our mutual attraction to our Savior. He draws people who would never relate in any other sphere, and He enables their relationship through His blood.
Beyond promoting a gospel familiarity within our churches, we develop genuine church relationships in three ways: commitment, involvement, and service. Depth comes through many years of walking the same path, through the pains and the joys. Our own family relationships endure in part because they are forged over many years. “Relationships are always in process. They are not static. And they take time. They don’t happen overnight.” We can be guilty of expecting the familiarity that comes with years without investing the time those relationships take. So stick with them. Commit to lengthy relationships. Be quick to invest in the people around you and slow to abandon them for less proven relationships.
But relationships aren’t deep simply because they are long. Those years must be filled with consistent involvement. Don’t expect life-giving relationships within your church if you’re only showing up for Sunday mornings. Be there during the week. Show up for Wednesday meetings, for church cleaning and for nursing home singing. Quality relationships only develop as we spend time with others in the body of Christ.
We should also use the time we spend deliberately. Don’t assume depth will develop without effort. Delve below the surface. Remember, the church exists for the spiritual health of all involved. So, go beyond work and weather. Dig into the spiritual lives of your brothers and sisters, and open yourself to their questions about you. Sometimes that means asking the uncomfortable questions that prod into personal life, other times it means being personally vulnerable. Either way, we must transcend the trivial to the personal and spiritual. Faithful Christianity requires it.
The final ingredient is service. Deep relationships are catalyzed through selfless service for the sake of others. Our flesh will fight this, of course. Our tendency is to use relationships to benefit ourselves. But “we must fight ourselves. Paul calls this putting to death the old man (Col. 3:5). We are the biggest obstacle to intimacy in the body of Christ. Our sin. Our selfishness. Our desires. Brothers and sisters are going to rub us the wrong way. When they do, we should assume the problem isn’t them—it’s us.”
We counter this sinful tendency by mimicking Christ. He exemplified selfless service in His very purpose in joining us. His saving sacrifice was the epitome of service. We had nothing to offer and He had nothing to gain, yet He displayed His grace. We are atoned through Christ’s service, and now He calls us to the same love, the same service to others. We look at Him and copy His sacrifice, His service to us. Enduring, life-giving relationships only bloom as we follow Him in the same kind of selfless service.
|Julian Stoltzfus currently resides in Elnora, IN with his lovely wife, Ruthie. He has had the privilege of attending several semesters at Elnora Bible Institute since 2014, has a Christian Ministries certificate from the same, and is currently part of a pastoral apprenticeship program under Truth and Grace Mennonite Church. When not working, he enjoys tinkering around his house, diving into a good read, or fortifying relationships with family and friends. The 5th of 6, he has greatly benefited from the wisdom and influence of his parents and siblings. He longs to see authentic Christianity thrive as God transforms hearts through the gospel.
- The Holy Bible: NKJV, New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. Print.