There was a time when I stopped going to church. For over ten years I gave up meeting with other Christians to worship (Hebrews 10:25). I had not lost my faith in Jesus, but I had been hurt by disappointment and abandonment. The powerful instructions of Matthew 18:15-18 had been ignored and brothers and sisters I had known for years just left our church without explanation.
I continued to go to that church as it declined, even after moving to a nearby city. But eventually there wasn’t enough to keep me coming. The church had become very small, most of the folks I had known had left, the worship music annoyed me and I had disagreements with the pastor. I had lost my faith in people, which took my focus off of God. Yet it is God alone on whom we are to place our hope and faith. Our expectations should not be based on human performance.
I wrote about not going to church at https://retiredday.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/3/. In my hurt and disappointment I felt justified, but in the ensuing years I have learned that God doesn’t want us to give up on each other. We are called to have patience in well-doing (Romans 2:7) and not to grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13).
When we allow our disappointments and hurts to justify leaving the church we abrogate the authority of Scripture in our lives. That begins when we focus on the faults of other people for being responsible for problems in the church and then start grumbling about it. Finding fault and blaming others is not Biblical. It is just another human weakness that helps the enemy drive a wedge between believers.
When it comes to grumbling, we are likely tempted to think about the Israelites who grumbled against God and Moses in the wilderness. And we probably don’t think we are much like them. But grumbling in the church today can take many forms, such as complaining about changes or anything that doesn’t meet our approval. The deadly thing about grumbling is that it quickly becomes gossip, which spreads to rumor that stirs up ill feelings — none of which is based on truth or love, but rather on fear and blame.
Where is it written that we are justified in complaining when things don’t go our way? What does Jesus tell us about worrying? (hint: Matthew 6:27) Casting our cares on him (Psalm 55:22) doesn’t mean grumbling with your neighbor. We are supposed to take it to the LORD in prayer “in all circumstances” and “at all times” (see Ephesians 6:16-18). As mentioned in the first paragraph, Matthew 18:15-18 instructs us to go and directly confront the person we have something against — not to grumble to other people about them — and certainly not to end a relationship without first attempting to restore it.
Scripture repeatedly calls us to love one another. Look it up. That kind of love is supposed to be unconditional — without any conditions. To love one another we must be committed to one another, which means maintaining a relationship with one another. But God, knowing we are pretty thick-skulled, went beyond this single, generalized statement and spelled it out for us.
Scripture directs us to put on (as a garment) the new self (Ephesians 4:24), created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. That entails such things as forgiveness, acceptance, forbearance, serving, teaching, healing, growing, submitting — all of which need the putting on of righteousness (e.g. Colossians 3:12-14 and Ephesians 4:32). But we are not limited by our own strength in doing these things. God enables us to do these things by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
How we live as children of God is not dependent upon our human abilities. In Christ we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ephesians 5:8-10 tells us, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
The Church is not just another human organization, it is uniquely spiritual. It’s not just people — it’s God in us and us in him. The church is the body of Christ and Christ is our Head (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:23). We are not our own. We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). That means we are not to act on our own, but “in Christ” (e.g. Romans 6:3, Romans 8:1 and Romans 12:4-5).
John 17 records what is called the high priestly prayer of Jesus. In verse 11 Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” And again in verse 21 Jesus asks, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” I am greatly touched by this passage because my experience has shown me that Christians can sometimes display the total opposite of unity with one another. It is a testimony to God’s grace that he continues to favor his children, despite us not deserving it.
Jesus also tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Our obedience is required in order to make the answer to his prayer complete. For us to be one in Christ, we need to walk in the light as children of light (see Ephesians 5:8) which means to live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), which involves changing how we think about things (Romans 12:2) and being intentional in how we choose to act (2 Peter 1:5-8).
In Christ we are free (2 Corinthians 3:17) — free to clothe ourselves in godly traits (Colossians 3:12) …or not; free to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23) …or not; free to humble ourselves and submit ourselves before God and one another (James 4:7; Ephesians 5:21) …or not. Galatians 5:13 reminds us: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
So now, can we please walk together, help each other, grow in our faith together and stop grumbling?