You are called to be a disciple of Jesus and be part of His church. But you’ve also probably seen the meme on Facebook with the caption, “I would rather be fishing and thinking about God; rather than sitting in church and thinking about fishing.” While the author might’ve been sincere, nonetheless it promotes a false dichotomy.
If you’re married, I highly doubt your wife would appreciate you saying you, “would rather be fishing and thinking about her, rather than be with her and her family thinking about fishing.” Even the suggestion of such a conversation would probably not go over very well. But somehow we think that it is OK to say stuff like that regarding our relationship with God. God deserves all of us, at all times, and we should think about him and serve him all of our life. Memes like that are pictures of our views of the church. Namely, we want a relationship with God on our terms. A relationship with no commitments or strings attached. That’s why people say they are spiritual, but not religious. They want the benefits without the responsibilities. It seems that this is the stance that my generation, in particular, is taking towards the church. But all these cliches point to a misunderstanding about what the church is. Regardless of what we might think about the church, the reality is that the church was not a man’s invention, but rather it was Jesus himself who said these words, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” in Matthew 16:18. To claim to have a relationship with Jesus and ignore what He said about the church is not to take Him seriously or really know Him.
To be part of the church is to be in covenant with God. Now a covenant is a term we do not use anymore, and it causes some confusion because we think of it as a contract and we do not want to be legalistic. However, covenants are much more than that. The best understanding we have of a covenant is the institution of marriage. Marriage while includes a contract it goes beyond that. Out of love the groom and the bride both pledge to love and to cherish each other in health and sickness till their death. Furthermore, while in a contract if one of the parties breaks the contract through unfaithfulness the other party is free to walk away. However, in marriage when someone breaks that covenant the other party is emotionally invested which it makes a lot harder for them to walk away. Hence, many times out of love the offended party will choose to stay and to love regardless the pain of betrayal they feel.
God calls the church His bride. It is in this precise illustration that God chooses to demonstrate His relationship with the church. While the church is not perfect, and many times has been unfaithful, God still chooses to stand with us because He promised to love and to cherish his bride for eternity. We see a picture of this in the book of Hosea, a story of a young preacher and a prostitute named Gomer who marries Hosea and they have three kids. After some time of being married, his wife decides to return to her old ways and leaves her husband. She ends up worse than before being sold as a slave on the open market. This is when the Lord instructs Hosea to buy her back and love her like before. Like Gomer humanity has been unfaithful towards God. God, in his unconditional love, bought us back out of slavery and we now have a chance to be his beloved. Gomer’s intentions could have been sincere; perhaps she just needed a break, but leaving for any reason is ultimately breaking her covenant and slowly led her onto a path of destruction. She can’t be faithful to her husband while flirting with other men. She can’t love her husband without a full commitment to him. Anything less than a full commitment is ultimately a selfish form of exploitation of others and abuse. It seems that many people are OK to have a half hearty commitment to God.
Would you like to be treated like that? If you’re a woman in love with the man of your dreams, imagine if this man wants to “love” you, but he is not willing to get a job, buy you a ring, have a wedding or even put his name down on any paper together with you. Oh yeah, and by the way, he does not want to forsake all the other women. But he assures you that he will love you just not be committed to only you. Would you be OK with that? Would you call your relationship marriage? Deffenitly Not. Call it what you want, but that’s not marriage. He will walk away anytime he wants and leaves you more broken than you were before. True love is a sacrifice, and anyone who claims to love must give and sacrifice. That’s why John 3:16 says that “For God so loved the world that he Gave….”
So, why is it that we can claim to have a relationship with Jesus, but don’t do what he says (see John 15:14)? How can we claim that we are His bride without pledging to be faithful and serve only Him for our entire life? How can we claim we were part of His bride if we are not willing to proclaim our love publicly through water baptism? How can we be His bride without an inner devotion to Him? How can we claim all of these things without being part of the church? How can we say we love Jesus but not love His church?
The church is the beautiful bride of Christ Jesus. It spreads throughout history and different generations/cultures. It was built by Jesus himself, and He will come back to take it with Him. The role of the church is to gather believers for corporate worship, discipleship, community and finally to be a refuge center for the broken. We find all of these aspects of ministry in Acts 2. To claim to be a follower of Christ and to not love the church is nonsense. It is not genuine love. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to be part of a biblical community of believers.
But the church is boring…
So is everything else if you do not engage and invest your time and resources into. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be. If your heart is somewhere like fishing then perhaps you have been putting all of your treasure into a hobby that will only last for this life instead of investing into eternity.
But I do not have the time…
We always find the time for things we consider important, regardless of how busy we get. This is not a scheduling problem, but a heart problem. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of what is really important. We traded things that are eternal for things and activities that are temporary and worthless in light of eternity.
But I watch church services online…
Watching services online is not a replacement for the real community that you have to be a part of. A physical community is where you can be challenged to grow. Online services are great at supplementing your spiritual diet, but it can never be substituted for the real community. In Hebrews 10:25 we are told, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another….” Furthermore, by being absent, you deprive the bride of Christ of your wisdom, talent, and service.
But the church is filled with hypocrites …
It’s true the church is filled with sinners and hypocrites and the church also has room for more. There is a false notion that the church should be filled with perfect people, but in reality, we are all sinners who are saved by grace. And in this crucible, we learn how to forgive, love, and grow.
But people in the church have hurt me…
Yes, that happens, but chances are you have also hurt others. Maybe not in the same way or proportion, but we have all done it. We forgive and love others because we were forgiven and loved first by Jesus. To be bitter and keep score of your hurts is not healthy. Furthermore, is also not biblical; remember that every time you pray “forgive us, as we forgive others” or read the parable of the servant who was forgiven but himself won’t forgive his debtor.
But I feel judged…
Frankly, not many people care about what you have done. When I am in church, I feel the weight of my sins and do not worry about others’ sins. Granted, there are people that think they are better than others and will compare themselves to you, but in reality, they are far worse. They also suffer from pride, which is a sin as well. More importantly, what you feel might also be the conviction of the Holy Spirit telling you that how you are living is wrong and you should change. Every time you feel this way you are at a defining moment, a crossroad; where you can either ask God to make you better, or you can choose to runway and be worse. How you choose has eternal rewards or consequences, so choose wisely.
In light of eternity, there is no excuse we can come up with to justify living life by ourselves, alone and isolated. That was never the plan that God intended for our lives. So, find a community of believers, also known as a church, and plug yourself in. Make sure this community has a great vision and direction, and where the leaders of the church love and have a relationship with the people attending. Where leaders empower you and challenge you to be a disciple and ask you to disciple others. Finally, find a church where you grow in faith and respond to the calling and mission God has placed in your life.