We are sometimes so hurt by the words, the actions, or the attitudes of a fellow Christian that we are tempted to feel that there is just not room in one congregation for both of us. “I have to put up with a lot, but the Lord doesn’t expect me to put up with that!” Yes, even that.
Have we considered what it would be like to be in the same congregation with the so-called heroes of the Bible?
How would you like to have been Abraham’s wife on a trip to Egypt?
Powerful government officials: “I find your wife quite attractive.” Abraham: “Oh, she’s not my wife.”
How about being one of Lot’s daughters?
Sodomites: “Send out your male quests so we may abuse them.”
Lot: “Oh, no please, take my daughters instead.”
How would you like to sign a business agreement drawn up by Jacob? Poor Uncle Laban! Do you think they had to worship in the same congregation together?
How would you feel if you had been a young Palestinian Christian sitting across the table from the great apostle Peter listening to all he had to say about the love of Jesus, and then had seen him suddenly, upon seeing a brother from Jerusalem, jump up from the fellowship table and refuse to eat with you again? How would you like to be in the same congregation with a guy like that?
Suppose you were a young talented preacher of the Gospel, but you didn’t satisfy the requirements of the great apostle Paul – and he came down on top of you like an irate, self-righteous ton of bricks. How could you stay in the same church with a man that would do that to you? If it hadn’t been for the wisdom and patience of Uncle Barnabas, we might never have heard of John Mark again. The harsh words and murderous deeds that came out of Paul’s extravagant zeal may seem to us of some historic interest, but Stephen’s mother must have had a continuous struggle to be able to forgive him – not to speak of worshipping with him.
How would you like to have Mary’s problem? During the Passover she looks on helplessly as vicious, hateful people curse, torture and finally murder her boy, methodically and with excruciating thoroughness. On Pentecost, fifty days later, she is expected to welcome those same people in her congregation. The incredible thing is that, as far as we know, she does.
The glorious thing is that the breadth of God’s love takes in all these people and that his death on the cross makes the hostility between them irrelevant. He makes them one.
The amazing thing is that we look back on these people – Abraham, Jacob, Peter, Paul, Mary, and the saints of Jerusalem – and we feel as if we want to be one with them.
The hard thing is not feeling one with Abraham and Paul. (They’re dead and we don’t have to get along with them!). The hard thing is feeling one with some of the brothers and sisters God has given us right where we are. There is a perverse song that sounds strangely apropos here: “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.”
We are called as members of Christ’s community to realize that the breadth of Christ’s love encompasses people we would never choose to be in the same congregation with us and Christ died to make us one. Since that is settled, our job is simply to understand this and live in accordance with it. that’s what the church is for.
We need to be really careful at this point. If God has chosen someone to live with Him forever, we probably had better not tell God that this place is not big enough for the both of us.