June 8, 2015

Balance and outreach

2 Chronicles 19:1–20:37, Titus 3:12–15, Psalm 101:1–8

Surveys say that many people claim to be Christians, love Jesus, pray, but are not associated with any church. If these people truly are believers, they already belong to the Body of Christ, yet they seem oblivious to this reality. It makes me sad that the choice to stay out of fellowship with other Christians blocks them from knowing what is theirs in Christ Jesus.

Even though I understand some of the reasoning for a decision like this, ‘fringe’ believers put a greater burden on my heart than those who are not saved. A Christian who is estranged from other Christians is like a family member who never comes to family events, missing the support and loving friendship of others who will always be part of who they are.

Jehoshaphat the king of Judah had the same burden. In today’s reading, he had fought alongside an estranged fellow Israelite and returned in safety to his house in Jerusalem. At that point, Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord. Nevertheless, some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.”

I believe this seer spoke in error concerning the wrath of God over this king’s love for his enemies. The next verses say that Jehoshaphat lived at Jerusalem but “he went out again among the people, from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim, and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers.” (2 Chronicles 19:1–4)

This man cared about those who had separated themselves from the family of God. He went out and brought them back to the Lord. His strategy was one of support, not dismissal. I like that strategy. Jesus did too. He told His followers to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.

Today’s NT reading includes a verse about supporting others: “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:13–14)

I know many people who profess faith in Christ but do not go to church. Those who do attend church sometimes dismiss these, saying if they were really Christians, they would not do that. Perhaps we who claim to be “really Christians” should not add to the rift by criticizing those outsiders, but do as Jehoshaphat did and go out and bring them back to the Lord.

There is another side to this though. In reaching out to those who fall away, I need to guard my own heart that I am not enticed or trapped by the same snares that have seduced them. That is, if a fringe Christian is more interested in something like sports or hobbies than attending church and I have a similar interest, I can use that to build bridges and be friends with them, but not let it become something that draws me away from my devotion to Christ and to His Body.

Today’s psalm takes a stand. At first, it sounds harsh, like a self-righteous person, but I’m reading it as an example of inner convictions to protect me from sliding away from God:

“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure. I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.” (Psalm 101:3–8)

These convictions are important. I know the power of sin. When I am “going out to bring people back” these convictions will guard my own heart. Without them, I might not come back myself. At the same time, unless I’m willing to go where they are, I cannot expect them to come where I am.

No comments: