So I was reading today in Colossians 3, about the new self we are supposed to put on. There was something that really stuck out to me about this new self. In it, we are supposed to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is,” (v.1) and also to “put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (v.12)
You know what’s way easier than possessing those traits listed? Arguing over whether or not God cares if we use instruments in church. Nitpicking the way communion is carried out. Doctrinal issues. Do we still tithe? Do we still follow the sabbath? Should church be on Saturday or Sunday? Do we call our leader a preacher or a pastor? Will my dog, favorite landscape, etc. be in heaven?
I’ll be honest, it is far easier for me to focus on these things and what my stance is on them than to be patient. It is far easier for me to be intellectual than humble and meek. It is easier to defend the practices I believe in than to be kind when someone has hurt me.
But if I had to choose which of the two things I think are “above, where Christ is,” I would have to say I don’t think that it’s whether or not we should dance, stand when we pray, let women read scripture, or speak in tongues during service. I have seen so many people dig through the bible to find the tiniest traces of a rule or practice we should follow and be willing to fight, yell, judge, hold grudges, condemn others, split churches, etc. to support it… when all the while we have very direct, repetitive commands to think of heavenly things, not earthly, and to be kind, humble, compassionate, loving, forgiving, unified, patient, and so much more.
What are we doing? Do our practices and beliefs about them mean anything to Christ if we destroy his bride in the process of defending them? We skim over the words of Ephesians, “let not corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear,” (4:29) a direct command, then turn and tear into the practices of another denomination. Does the way we run our church service really matter more to Christ than the poor, hungry bodies and thirsty, imprisoned souls that surround us all week? Does it matter more than unity and love within his body?
The fruit of the spirit is not intelligence, church history knowledge, non-instrumental worship, use of a King James Bible, one-cup communion, or any of the other things we focus on. Can you imagine Jesus saying those things? “I recognize you as my bride because you, to the best of your knowledge, followed as perfectly as possible the practices of the original church.” What? No! He says he’ll recognize us because we clothed the naked and fed the hungry. (Matt 25:35) We’re told the fruit of the spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal 5:22) We are of God if we “believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.” (1 Jn 3:23)
We’ve got to stop this. There is a narrow path that leads to salvation and a wide path that leads to destruction WITHIN the church. Can’t you see it?
In a sermon that I listened to a while back, John Piper says: “the devil has had more doctrinally correct thoughts about God today than you will in your entire life. The difference isn’t doctrine. It’s delight.” And he’s so right. But oftentimes I feel as though we delight in being “correct” doctrinally more than we delight in Christ and in his children.
If as a parent my child drew me a picture, and some fancy-schmancy artist came up an told my child, “I went to art school for years and years. I’ve studied countless hours, and I’m sorry but your picture is all wrong. Your lines aren’t straight, your proportions are incorrect, the colors aren’t even close to accurate… There’s no way your mother will be pleased with this,” and possibly even followed it up with, “honestly I’m kind of doubting that your mother will even accept you as her child now,” would I be pleased with that artist for setting my child straight? If he came up to me afterwards and said, “don’t worry, Rachel. I got her all sorted out. She’s signed up to study privately with me so I can show her how to truly draw you a picture you’ll be pleased with,” would I pat him on the back and be grateful for his “offering” to me? Of course not! I would be furious, just like Jesus was with the Pharisees. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matt 23:13) The Pharisees made the artwork the point, and they told everyone it had to be perfect. But the point is not the artwork. It’s the child. It’s the love that led the child to try and draw in the first place.
If what God cared about most was us being accurate, don’t you think he could have written the bible much more straightforward? Maybe like, I don’t know, the list of laws in the Old Testament?
Don’t you see that he sent Jesus to do away with all of this?
Don’t you see that he sent his spirit to change us INSIDE since the law only changed us EXTERNALLY? Don’t you see that God has made clear commandments about what is truly important, how to live in love with him and others? Don’t you see that he has told us what is “above, with Christ”?
Let’s stop arguing or fixating on church service and doctrine! Do you truly believe that the way your church holds service is going to happen once a week in heaven? We know what will happen in heaven: love. Because God IS love, and he is in the process of transforming us to be like himself, given we allow him to. Compassion is above, where Christ is. Humility is above, where Christ is. Patience is above, where Christ is. Forgiveness, unity, trust, hope, kindness, goodness… Those are all above, where Christ is. Those are what we are to set our minds on. Let’s try it church. I’m right there with you.
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgement on himself for what he approves.” (Romans 14:22)