October 17, 2007

Welcome to Philadelphia

This week I read a brief but helpful internet article about Christian community (by Tim Challies). Within the article was a wonderful quote by a fellow named Charles Drew (author of A Journey Worth Taking). Speaking about our spiritual family, the church, Drew says:

We don’t choose our brothers and sisters—God does. And sometimes (oftentimes)
those people are not terribly compatible with us—not the people we would choose
to hang out with.

He goes on to explain that God builds churches out of not-so-similar people for a couple of really good reasons:

A) To teach us how to really love (it’s easy to love people who are just like me…a little more challenging the more different they are)

B) To demonstrate that the good news is for all sorts of people

I would add that God also intends His local churches to be, each one, a colorful mosaic of various races, backgrounds, ages, and socio-economic classes in order to show the power of the gospel to change the human heart.

What better way to demonstrate the reality of the new birth than for the people of God to be known—not mainly for their social or political stances, or their programs and preachers—but for how they love each other! And what better way for God to highlight the reality of this love than to stick a bunch of people together who would never, ever be friends apart from the gospel; people who, in their unbelieving days, would probably never even have crossed paths because of their racial, social, or economic status!

While the secular world squawks about cherishing diversity, it is rarely achieved on any grass-roots level. Sure, there may be little open racism happening on our streets. And yes, one has to study the French Revolution to observe true class wars. But, in 21st century America, white people still live in white neighborhoods. Black people tend to hang out with mostly black people. The upper-middle class make friends almost exclusively within their own circles. And when is the last time you heard of an unbelieving college student going to lunch with the retiree from down the street? In the world, people love those who look like, talk like, and come out of the same sociological shoots as them. But in the church…not so. In the church, the college student and the little old lady become sisters. In the church, the white mother of five and the young black couple become family.

The Bible word for this is philadelphia—brotherly love. And Paul says (1 Thess. 4.9) that this kind of love is taught the believer by God Himself. There are some things that the new Christian has to pick up as he matures—how to tithe, the difference between justification and sanctification, and so on. But love for fellow believers is like an instinct in those who are born again. Philadelphia is “taught by God” Himself.

So if you look around at your church and realize that there are more and more people who don’t exactly look like you—thank God for that! He’s teaching you how to really love. And He’s giving you an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the gospel to the on-looking, and happily homogeneous world. What a great place to be! Welcome to philadelphia!

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