Pastoral Perspectives

Being a Compelling Community

This perspective serves as a round up to the series of sermons that I preached over the first 3 Sundays of the New Year.

The word ‘compelling’ means to evoke interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way. If I were to apply it to our church community, it means members of this community, which is us, should conduct ourselves in such a way where we can evoke interest in, attention to or admiration for the Gospel.

How should we relate with each other so that we can have such traction? Peace, unity, oneness!

When sin came into the world, the peace between God and man was broken. We were sinful, God is holy thus we became enemies of God.

As a result, the peace between man and man was also broken. We see Adam putting the blame on Eve when he could have stopped her from eating the forbidden fruit yet he didn’t. Subsequently, we also see Cain murdering Abel out of jealousy – such violence and un-peace!

When Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins, he restored peace between God and man. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

He did not only restore man’s vertical relationship with God, he also restored the horizontal relationship between man and man. That is why in Christ, the wall of hostility between the Jews and Gentiles, who both shared no common thing except their hatred for each other, was torn down.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)

Therefore in Christ, though we are very different as individuals, we can live in unity with each other because we are part of his body. Moreover, we have been drawn into the fellowship of the Triune God who exists in community (Father, Son & Spirit yet one God). Since we have been made in his image, we too must exist in community, a community of love and of oneness in Christ.

Jesus prayed: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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.” (John 17:20-21)

The oneness we manifest has a missional impact, so that the world may believe that God the Father has sent Jesus to save us.

The challenge is for the church to keep living out this oneness for disunity dishonours Christ and discredits the Gospel.

Gathering for Worship

Gathering for weekly worship is a wonderful opportunity to live out that oneness.

Sadly, even in corporate worship, we think that our faith is just between God and us. We may be standing beside people in the sanctuary but we are oblivious of their presence. That may be the reason why we are so comfortable worshipping online in our respective homes.

Online worship, however, is never a good alternative because we are not able to manifest our oneness – we are not able to address each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; we are not able to share in the sacred meal; we are not able to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ; we are not able to look to each other’s interests, meet each other’s needs, serve and show love to one another.

And how does the world witness our oneness if we are all hidden in our homes?

Accepting rather than Judging

It is a shame when we judge and despise each other over differing opinions. Sometimes, the disputes arise from differing interpretations of Scriptures. Other times, Christians quarrel because they treat disputable matters as absolutes.

If the Bible has made a clear pronouncement, then there is nothing to dispute about.

Where Scripture is silent, encourage open conversations so that our conscience can be educated, and when it is educated, it won’t be so easily violated.

For those whose conscience does not restrict them, through those same conversations, they may learn how their freedom can potentially cause others to stumble. They may then choose to deny self, and as an act of love, willingly curb their own freedom for the sake of others.

Instead of judging and despising, are we able to accept one another as Christ has accepted us?

When we find someone’s behaviour unacceptable, again we should ask whether their behaviour transgresses the Word of God or are we annoyed just because we see things or do things differently from them?

If it is the latter, can we learn to embrace differing styles and opinions, and if it is the former, can we give time and space for others to repent and change since we too are not perfect and we ourselves also need time and space to work on our weaknesses?

In the meantime, we learn to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed us.

How does the world witness our oneness if we are always judging and despising one another?

Suffering and Comforting

We really need each other in this faith journey. Since we belong to the body of Christ, we share in his afflictions as well as in each other’s sufferings. The more we suffer, the more God will shower us with his comfort and the more we can extend the same comfort to fellow sufferers.

Unlike Paul, although our sufferings are likely not due to persecutions but the fallen world that we live in, we can still see our sufferings in light of the cross – just as Jesus came to us on the cross, through weakness and suffering, he now comes to us in our sufferings to attend to us.

Our comfort is therefore derived from our union with Christ. In him, we are God’s beloved; in him, we have the hope of eternal life. That’s where our comfort should ultimately lie, regardless how adverse our afflictions are.

We can also take comfort in the hope that God is able to redeem our every suffering, bringing good out of a seemingly evil situation, just as God redeemed Christ’s sufferings on the cross by bringing about our salvation.

We too can hope that God will deliver us from our afflictions, but every deliverance is a partial one; we await our final and complete deliverance from our last enemy, i.e. death.

Just as we are comforted when we see our sufferings in light of the cross, we can also bring comfort to others by pointing them to the cross so that they are also reminded of the ultimate hope that they have through their union with Christ.

The way the church responds to suffering, having fellow sufferers come alongside each other to extend care, concern and comfort, can be a powerful witness to that oneness that evokes interest in, attention to and admiration for the faith that we possess, and it is in such moments that a way is opened up for the Gospel to enter into the hearts of the lost.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

January 23, 2022