The church is family.
No, don’t think about it doctrinally, as a matter of fact. Sure, we in our heads know the church is our spiritual home. Rather, I am speaking more than matters of fact; I am writing about experience. Is family life your experience in this church?
The experience of family life is an experience of love. The brother listens; the sister understands; the elder cares.
But is your experience that the brother does not take the time to listen; that the sister does not understand what you are going through; or that the office-bearer does not seem to care about you?
Now, stop right there. Do not point the finger; turn the question around: Are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care?
If you answered yes, something is wrong. If we, the church, are family, we should not turn deaf ears to each other. We should listen and put ourselves in others’ shoes; we should love!
That is where our title comes in. God, who eternally loves us, teaches us how we ought to love one another in the church. God, through Paul, says, Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15).
The text has two actions: rejoice and weep. To rejoice means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness. For a Christian, to rejoice always means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness in our salvation. We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because we believe that Jesus Christ delivered us from all our sins (1 Pet. 1:8). When we hear this good news, we are glad, as the Gentiles were in Paul’s day (Acts 13:48).
At the same time, we have earthly joys that we experience daily. They are the joys of having our physical needs met—food, shelter, clothing, transportation—and having such things in abundance. They are the joys of having a spouse and children and of having friendships in the church. Over these things, we rejoice (see Eccl. 3:12-13).
But there is weeping too. Weeping is the expression of grief, sorrow, and pain. What a stark contrast to our joy! For a Christian, weeping is always rooted in our sorrow over our spiritual depravity. Listen to the cry of Paul: O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7:24). Or listen to the cry of the Psalmist: When I kept silence [over my sin], my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long (Ps. 32:3). Our sorrow over who we are by nature is deep, and it comes out with a loud, audible cry.
There are earthly sorrows that we experience daily. Sicknesses from flus; stresses from schools and jobs; troubles in making a living—in such events, we experience pain to some degree. We can add here, too, anything we respond to with a negative feeling. A train fault that made us late for work (again); breaking the glass jar in the kitchen; getting your hands soiled with your child’s foul-smelling poop. As insignificant as these things are, they contribute to the emotional sorrow we experience.
All of us rejoice; all of us weep. All of us have joys; all of us have sorrows. Now the calling is to rejoice together and weep together—that is, with others in the church.
To rejoice and weep together with someone means we listen to the brother or sister. What is his joy; what is her sorrow? We listen for the joy when the brother tells us. We give our fullest attention when sister breaks down in our presence. Then we try to understand the brother or sister. We picture the feeling of the brother’s joy in our minds, so that we know what makes him so happy and glad. We let the sorrow of the sister sink into our hearts, so that we know what makes her devastated. When we listen and understand, then we respond with the same joy and the same weeping. Smiling with the brother, we tell him, “Thank God; that’s great to hear!” Weeping with the sister, we gently whisper in her ear, “It is okay; cry your heart out here. I am here to cry with you”.
To rejoice and weep together is the reality of the church’s way of life.
But how often we lose that reality! When I switch off my mind as my brother shares with me about his day—there’s no listening in that! When, rather than giving him my attention, my focus is, “Oh, wait till he hears what I have to say!” I don’t even try to understand what he is going through! And when our brother is finished, we dully reply, “Oh”. Life in the church, then, is not for the brother and sister; but for me, myself, and I.
Paul, under inspiration, would not have us live that way. Through the first eleven chapters of Romans, he exhausts words to describe the love of God for us, the eternal decree of God’s election of His church, and the power of justification that lies solely in God’s grace through faith. Salvation is of God, not of ourselves!
If salvation is not of ourselves, can our lives be about me, myself, and I? Find Paul’s answer in Romans 12. Present your bodies a living sacrifice…unto God: Is that about me, myself, and I? Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: Anything about us? Let love be without dissimulation: What about now? The texts speak for themselves. Our salvation from God alone spells out a life that gives itself to God and His people; and a life that gives itself to God and His people is a life that loves God and His people.
And if Paul’s words are not compelling enough, listen to apostle of love, John: If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (I John 4:20). You and I are liars if we say, “Thanks be to God!” but do not love one another in the church, much less strive to learn to love.
Again, the question is: are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care? Are you, am I, the one that does not love?
The calling in the church is to love. The calling is to learn the proper way to love; and that way to love is to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those that weep.
How do we do so, especially in our congregation? We have talked about listening, understanding, and responding. But more can be said. Stay tuned, D.V.
Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 47