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'I need you - and you even need me'

 


Love isn’t something you do at polite arms’ length, writes Colin Sedgwick - here are two key reasons why it's important to keep on meeting together




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And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another... Hebrews 10:24-25



A preacher I heard recently referred to one of those “drive-in” churches you get in America. You turn up in your car, you park in the car park, and you follow the whole service while sitting in your car. Everything is on a big screen. If it’s a communion service you are even issued with a personal communion set as you drive in (yes, really!).

Well of course we had a good old laugh at our transatlantic cousins - boy, those crazy Americans! - whatever next? (There were, however, I ought to say, one or two who saw merit in this kind of procedure: one particularly wicked member of our congregation (also known as Ms N Sedgwick) was heard to exclaim “Just think! - you can go to church without having to be nice to everybody”...).

But seriously... on reflection I found myself wondering if we are necessarily much better. The fact is that it’s possible to go to “meetings” without actually, er, meeting anyone. You might possibly shake somebody’s hand, or give them a curt nod if they happen to be sitting on the same row. You might even “pass the peace” or greet them in some other fashion as directed by the person up front; but have you actually had any meaningful contact with them?

All right, you aren’t sitting cocooned in your car - but you might as well be.

Well, I hope your church isn’t like that, and I hope that you aren’t that kind of church-attender.

The writer to the Hebrew tells his readers that they shouldn’t “give up meeting together.” And wherever you go in the New Testament letters or in Acts it is simply assumed that the first Christians lived lives which were closely and deeply intertwined with one another: far more, in fact, than simply “meeting”.

We are told to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15); to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26), or with a “kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14). Not easy to do if you are keeping a frosty distance from everyone else.

It all goes back, of course, to the command of Jesus: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love isn’t something you do at polite arms’ length.

All right, you may be shy, and that’s no sin. You may find close personal contact uncomfortable - not everyone is that jolly, huggy-feely type of person. (We are, after all, Brits, not like those Americans we started with.) But the test is what is going on in our hearts: do I really care about these other people? Or are they just vague shapes, objects I happen to find myself in close proximity to?

Putting together those passages I have mentioned, we find there are at least two motives (apart, of course, from worship) for regular meeting together.

According to Jesus, it’s an act of meaningful witness: “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples”. I can’t track it down, but there is well-known report of a Roman in the early days of the church exclaiming with amazed admiration, “See how these Christians love one another!” That is the way it should be.

But sadly the opposite has too often been the case - see how these Christians fight and bicker with one another! I read recently about a church council in Ephesus in 449, convened to sort out various disagreements, where a bunch of “aggressive Egyptian monks armed with staves” turned up (according to a much-respected professor of theology) and proceeded to rough up those who were of a different opinion to theirs. (The Bishop of Constantinople “died of his injuries”.)

All right, a grotesquely extreme example. But the fact is that the church’s track record on loving one another in spite of differences has not been good over the two thousand years it has existed. Why should unbelievers be drawn to Christ if they see us at loggerheads with one another? What sort of witness is that?

The other motive for “meeting together” is mutual encouragement. Those verses in Hebrews 10 tell us that it is in doing so that we can “spur one another onwards to love and good deeds”, and so “encourage one another”.

Which means, in plain terms: I need you - and you even need me. Putting it the other way round: if you’re not there, I will feel your absence - and if I’m not there, you may even feel mine. Yes, really!

So let’s heft ourselves out of our cars (so to speak) and really meet together!

 

Image | Jon Tyson | Freely



Lord Jesus, thank you for making us a family, not just a group of strangers. Help me to love my fellow-believers, even the annoying ones, and to take real pleasure in being with them. Amen. 



Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.

He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com

 

 



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Baptist Times, 06/09/2018
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