I Thessalonians 5:8-11 (NIV) But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Have you ever heard the expression “how do you eat an elephant”? The answer is “one bite at a time.” Well, I have never attempted to eat an elephant and indeed find the thought of it appalling but the statement is not literal but figurative. It refers to taking on a challenge or something much bigger than you can comprehend tackling. One may get overwhelmed and the task seem daunting. The statement simply reminds us that you just have to take it step by step. Well, recently I have been tasked with the women’s ministry of our church. I have known for about a year now that God was leading me in this direction but chose to ignore it like it wasn’t a reality. Okay, it is now a reality and I would be lying to say that I did not panic at the thought. I have served in the church nursery too many times to count. I have taught Children’s Church and found it quite gratifying. We even had the privilege of building a middle school youth ministry from seven kids to a roomful and I survived church camp and retreats unscathed still loving this age group. But women, ugh. I know…I know this should be easy after all. I am one. However, as a woman who better to know and understand their plight also gives me insight and knowledge that quite frankly scares the dickens out of me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love people. I love women. I have friends who are women . I also know the ugly truth about my gender given to gossip, envy, strife, and backbiting. I have prayed three times hoping maybe the Lord would pass the cup that I am struggling to take hold of, but then I gained a new perspective. I am not called to commandeer this unique kind of human but do what Jesus did. Put on faith, wrap myself in love, and keep my mind focusing on the Kingdom are the tools that I have been given. My mission – to encourage and build up. Why is that so hard? Well maybe because too many times we make more out of the call on our life than we should adding duties and responsibilities that are not warranted. My job in any ministry role or position (this includes my everyday life which is mandated by the Great Commission) is to build the Kingdom of God. The process – faith, hope and lots of love.
Why is this so hard? Why do we struggle to build relationships in the Body of Christ and with the outside world? Is this really a question? Do you live in a box? People are complicated, messy and difficult. They are like the overflowing junk drawer in the kitchen that you hate to clean out. It is much easier to text than talk so relationally we open windows without true expression. If people were perfect, relationships would be easy. Since this is not the case, the one thing that we are called by Christ to accomplish becomes the impossible…outside of Christ.
Romans 15:1-7 (NIV) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
I have come to the absolute conclusion that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission or build the Kingdom of God without faith, hope and love. In I Corinthians 13, it is prioritized for us as it says that the greatest of these is love. I can say that I love you. I can even choose random acts of kindness to show you that I love you. But love is more than just a confession and some niceties along the way. Love is an unconditional commitment according to the example of Jesus Christ. Love is never ending grace and mercy. It is a conviction to never stop trying to love no matter how hard the other person makes it.
The greatest love is defined as the kind of love that is willing “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) But wait there is more…we are supposed to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44) Man, this love thing is complicated. So in my quest to figure out this whole new calling, I have had to dig really deep into the subject of love and relationships. I need the Lord to till my hard, stubborn heart and make it soft and pliable to love more than ever before.
Romans 15 is a challenge to those who believe themselves to be “strong” Christians. Are you a believer? Are you a Christian? Are you a leader of some kind – pastor, teacher, deacon, elder, or the like? If you consider yourself to be strong, love should be evident in your life. It should be our greatest asset as sons and daughters serving God and building His Kingdom. So why all the walls built of doctrine and diversity? Why won’t congregations accept another’s invitation to an event, revival or worship service? I’ll stop. Let’s move on.
If I am strong in the Lord, I MUST be able to bear the “failings of the weak” and not to please myself. Meaning it is not about comparison. It is about love. When someone is around me who needs the love that I have found in Jesus (which is everyone) I am to express His Love to them even if I do not agree with their life choices. Jesus did that for me so it would be hypocritical to live any other way. We are to please our “neighbors” and build them up. Do we even know our neighbors anymore? I do not have the right to be insulted or offended any more. Jesus took every offense ever leveled against me to the Cross. All I should know now is grace and mercy. But do I? Do I struggle not to fight back? Am I sarcastic disguising my comeback with a “bless your heart”? God has given us His Word as encouragement. Jesus tells us to love one another. Love is not a word it is a verb. We must learn to be encouragers of people even when we hate their sin or do not agree with their lifestyle.
Encouragement and endurance are Christ like attitudes that impact our relationships and how we love people. It is the voice of unity that is missing in the church buildings today. We tear apart people. We tear apart denominations and congregations not like us. We do not reach out going into our communities but rather try to suck the right people in. Love is unconditional. It is blind to faults and failures in its purest conception. We must learn to separate people from their sin and love them like Jesus. We must become expert builders who use encouragement to share the love of God.
Accept one another. Acceptance is critical in relationships. Accepting people into our life is about creating a culture of connection with other people outside of our comfort zones. There is a business philosophy called, “Build, burn, build.” It was in a success series I listened to a long, long time ago on a cassette tape if that gives some idea. It came from the great success motivator in business, Zig Ziglar. Mr. Zilglar is quoted as saying, “You do not build a business. You build people, and people build the business.” Hmm…I think this might apply to church as well. What if we made it our business to build people rather than buildings and mass congregations? What if we intentionally focused our time, energy, attention and resources on the individual? There is a quote by an unknown author floating around that says, “Successful people build each other up. They motivate, inspire and push each other. Unsuccessful people just hate, blame, and complain.” I want to be successful in life especially when it comes to pleasing God. We must learn to build, burn and build. The concept does not imply ignoring our faults and weaknesses but always beginning and ending in love. There should be more building then burning going on.
2 Corinthians 10:7-8 (NIV) You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
I have been given all power and authority in Jesus Christ. If I do not use it to love, it is useless to me. Love demonstrates my connection to Jesus Christ. He is the foundation that I build on. Anything that I build in the natural is subject to destruction, but relationships formed with individuals who discover His Love remain forever. My life is worth nothing if not dictated by faith, hope and love. Paul goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 13 that “the authority the Lord gave me (is) for building you up, not tearing you down. The Love of God changes people not judgment, condemnation or rejection. I must strive to love and use that love to build prospering relationships to be a good steward of the power invested in me by Jesus Christ.
Jude 20-25 (NIV) But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Lord, teach me to use love to encourage and build up others today. With this revelation, I have found my new purpose in this whole new venture of women’s ministry. Maybe rather than “eating” the elephant in the room, I am called to wrap my arms around it and love it. Get to know it. Spend time with it. Relate to it. Woman spend way too much time comparing themselves to one another and tearing one another apart as a whole. I must stop considering the complexity and complicated nature of woman looking past the exterior built by pain or shame to the hurt and broken heart that needs a Healer. I know Him. One person at a time. This is the expert building that will create the Kingdom of God. This is the true identity of the Bride of Christ. It is not in our buildings or sitting in the congregation. It is learning to love intentionally and unconditionally until we become a relational body again who can laugh, cry, and love as one again – the way that Jesus intended it to be. It’s gonna be a whole lot of work and take every person laying their life down to reach another. It’s all about love. It’s gonna be worth it. It’s all about Jesus.
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NIV) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.