Longing For a Culture of Grace
There is something that's been on my heart about the life of our church (and others) for some time. Although I've discussed it briefly in various contexts I've never really sat down to try and succinctly articulate what it is...here it goes. I hope this turns out to be helpful for you. Week in and week out, as we gather together to lift up our Savior with one voice as a church family there is something I long to see brought to maturity in our midst. It's something that's "thereish", but not really there yet. The best way I believe I've heard this expressed is with the idea of a culture of grace. As the body of Christ, I long for us to be part of a culture that exudes grace to all who are in our midst.
What I want is that which results from what Paul encourages in Romans 15:1-7. And my desire is that this post will serve to help you long for it too. In this passage, Paul says this:
"We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.' For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
What we read here is an exhortation for us to live out the implications of the irresistible grace of the gospel call in our lives. Paul essentially says to us as Christians, "Since Jesus has sacrificed himself for you and welcomed you into his kingdom with open arms, you are to to lay down your lives for your neighbor and embrace him with open arms." It is really a simple concept, basic to the Christian life. But the scope of its all-encompassing reach is scarcely realized in our churches' cultures. The sad fact is that the base and simple sin of selfishness creeps in and chokes up this wonderful word of exhortation from Paul...but it does not have to.
So I want to paint a brief picture of what in might look like to walk into a Sunday morning meeting consciously seeking to live this out. With that said, I want to stress that this principle ought to be lived out in all spheres of a Christian's life. But when we gather for corporate worship it ought to be symphonic and overwhelming. It ought to be overwhelmingly irresistible for us and for our guests, just as Jesus' grace is for us. Imagine with me a Sunday morning meeting in which each of us we sought ways "not to please ourselves, [but rather] our neighbor for his good, to build him up..."
Imagine coming into the parking lot praying for ways to bring hope to those troubled by sin and failures, or burdened by a cycle of unfortunate circumstances. You are eager to interact with people because you can safely assume that someone has had this kind of week, just like you often experience. So you can't wait to find this person to share the hope of the gospel with. And the reason you have this drive is because you've met with Jesus the previous night, or that morning, and received this grace that you long to share (see vv. 3-4). You're prepared to serve your neighbor because of how Jesus has served you.
That's right, you're not walking into the cafeteria doors primarily to catch up with people, or even "be fed" necessarily, but to serve. And so you joyfully greet each person you pass, sincerely expressing your gratitude for their presence that morning. You know God has called you to serve him or her, or them, and look for ways to do that. And so maybe you find that the first few people you interact with are doing well...and you praise God! You express to others how good it is to be with them in he presence of God to worship Him for the grace He's obviously given them. And when finishing this conversation you notice someone you haven't seen before, maybe even a first-time guest...and you wonder if this is the person you're supposed to encourage...
So with a loving boldness, desiring to see Jesus extend his irresistible grace to others, you joyfully and sincerely greet this person, welcoming him or her, "as Christ has welcomed you." And so you ask the "How are you doings?" and the "What's brought you hears?" with faith and expectation, knowing that Jesus is behind it all. You listen intently to how this person is doing, seeking to get to know this person so that you can thoughtfully and skillfully communicate grace to him or her. And maybe you won't be the person to state specific thoughts of encouragement, but you can be one of the many in the body to let them know that, because you know God has brought them here to receive grace, you are happy they are here and there to serve them.
Imagine if all of our encounters with others were like this... Imagine if this was our general disposition as we greet the greeters, help set up chairs and/or instruments, interact with crazy children getting lemonade or older people getting coffee, meet someone who was struggling in community group in the bathroom, worship next to someone who breaks out in tears (or is lifelessly still), listen intently to the sermon, break down everything afterwards, and then on our way to lunch with brothers and sisters (or guests!) after the service... What I hope I've helpfully described is a picture of what I believe a culture of grace can look like when each of us as individual believers seeks to live by the principle Paul describes in this passage. It is beautiful, it is compelling, and it gives glory to God! Would you pray with me that God would create this culture in our church (and our churches)? And would you pray with me that each of us would begin by seeking to apply this ourselves?