The challenge to love like God does is massive. It is the radical message of the New Testament. More radical than we are prepared to admit. A love that forgives enemies. A love that forgives seventy times seven. A love that desires to bless. A love that goes on and on – strange how in the words of a modern song we are able to sing that about God’s love to us, yet we find it hard at times for one another.
The fact is that the Bible fairly and squarely puts us all in the same boat. None of us is here (in the church) because we are good or have stand out qualities. We are all part of God’s family by his sheer grace. And still in need of mercy and grace. Day by day needing to pray, “Father, forgive me/us,” and as his family, at one and the same time both saints and sinners, we are called to express that same love – mercy, grace, forgiveness to one another.
Yes, fully justified, possessing a new nature and identity, but still works in progress, being transformed at varying rates and degrees. There are some who’ve made huge progress, others its slow going. But all part of the same family of God. This means that the communities to which we belong, those assemblies, churches, small groups, contain people who are at one and the same time both saints and sinners, each one a work in progress, and because they are made up of such people they can be both exciting and frustrating places at the same time. Exciting as we see and hear stories of transformation, but frustrating and disappointing when we run up against the brokenness and falleness that still exists in our brothers and sisters, and when they run up against it in us. Its hard when those we have admired and looked to and been encouraged by (and put on a pedestal) turn out to have a disappointing side to them, when they fail us, when they of all people let us down in some way.
Every church is made up of such people and therefore has the potential to both meet our expectations and fail them at the same time. But this is, to quote Scott McKnight, “where we are given the opportunity to embrace the inaugurated kingdom: we are to embrace ourselves and our fellow saints as those in need of grace and forgiveness and love….” then quoting Bonhoeffer, “The bright day of Christian community dawn’s wherever the early morning mists of dreamy vision are lifting.” (Kingdom Conspiracy)
How many of us live with such mists of dreamy vision, visions of perfection for ourselves, visions of perfection in others, visions of the perfect church. Its when those mists of “dreamy vision” lift that we have the opportunity for the experience of a truly New Testament Christian fellowship and community, a fellowship and community that is willing to learn how to walk this rugged and long journey together in the same direction.
We need to slay the idea of an idealised Christian community. It doesn’t exist and it will never exist this side of Heaven. Everyone will let us down at some point, but love never fails. In many ways it’s like marriage, frequently people fall in love and marry on the basis of an idealised view of marriage, and we love that dreamy vision, she’s perfect, I’m perfect, we are perfect for one another, it’s going to be perfect… But all the while we hold to the dreamy vision we cannot live and work through the reality that confronts more and more as we get to know one another that neither of us are perfect! And so people fall out of love. It is when the mists of dreamy vision disappear that we can begin to learn what it is to love one another like perhaps we have never loved one another and make progress to becoming all that God intends us to be.
What opportunity lies before you to embrace the inaugurated kingdom, to embrace someone who has failed you with love, mercy, grace and forgiveness, to practice loving them like God loves you?
Do you need to stop looking for the ideal church (the dreamy vision) and just get back to brothers and sisters just like you and learn how to start loving them like God loves them, and you, and see what he’ll do?