LOVING THE IMPERFECT
Have you ever been to the grocery store or the Mall, and while you were shopping you couldn’t help but be distracted by the antics of someone’s child? The child is having a meltdown. They’re screaming and yelling, perhaps even hitting their mother. They’re throwing a temper tantrum for you and everyone else to see, and you think to yourself, “Please, just smack that child and get it over with. If you won’t I gladly will.” In fact, you turn around and a single file line of people has formed who are waiting their turn to discipline this child (Ok. Not really). Have you ever been to the grocery store or the Mall and the child acting so unruly was your child? That sheds a whole different light on the situation, doesn’t it? It’s one thing when it’s someone else’s child, but it’s a whole different ballgame when it’s your child everyone is lined up to smack. Do you love your child when they throw a fit? Why? I mean, how could you love your child when they are screaming and yelling and kicking and crying? It’s not sweet. It’s not cute. There’s nothing endearing about that at all. So, how could you love them?
When I was teaching school, I had students that I was certain were the spawn of Satan. When their parents would sit down with me for a conference they would say, “He really is a good kid. He’s just misunderstood.” And I would think, “Only you could say that with a straight face.” Their parents would defend them by pointing out how sweet and loving they can be, and I would think, “I could use a lot of adjectives to describe your child but ‘sweet’ and ‘loving’ are not the first things that come to mind.” For some strange reason, these parents still loved these kids. You still love your kids, even when they’re at their worst. And those parents of those kids at the grocery store or the Mall still love their child even though their child can be anything but lovable at times.
The church is the same way. She has her problems. Decisions are made that we don’t agree with. People frustrate us. The prayers are too long. The sermon is too long. We sing too many songs. Whatever it is, we can always find a reason to find fault. But in spite of her warts and scars, the church is still something we should love. I mean, Christ still loves you with all of His heart, even when you’re at your worst. If He can love us at our very worst, then surely we can love each other in spite of our flaws. If you only love something that is perfect, then you will never truly love anything. Nothing that you love in your life is perfect. You know that, yet you love anyway. Whether it’s your spouse, your kids, your job, whatever. Everything you truly love in your life is flawed. So why should the church be any different? Why do we have the most unrealistic expectations when it comes to church? We don’t expect perfection in anything else. So why church?
My love for the church is not predicated upon her being perfect. If it was, I would have nowhere to worship. Plus, the fact that the church is imperfect is actually one good reason to love her. Think about it. God has called imperfect people to change the world. Because we’re imperfect, we can sympathize with this world. We know what others are experiencing. We’ve been there. Some of us are still there. We completely understand what it’s like to live a flawed existence. We also know what it’s like to experience redemption; something an imperfect world desperately needs. As imperfect redeemed children of God, we seek to help the imperfect people of the world to find this same redemption. That’s what I love about the church. It has a clear message and mission. She may not be perfect, but the message and the mission most definitely are.
I’ve heard it said that there are two sides to the church. There is the divine side and the human side. The divine side looks to what God has designed, and what God has designed is perfect. But on the human side, we find flawed and imperfect individuals. We have a tendency to focus on the human side. When we do, we see only the imperfection. We only see the flaws and the failures. It would do us all well to shift our focus to the divine side and regain an appreciation for all that is right with the church.
Notice how Paul opens his letter to the Corinthians brethren.
2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:2-9).
Paul opens with the good stuff. He refers to the Christians in Corinth as “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus (v. 2).” He thanks God for them and “for the grace of God which was given them in Christ Jesus (v. 4).” These Christians had been enriched in the Lord, in all speech and all knowledge. The testimony of Christ was confirmed in them (v. 6). Paul appeals to the fact that God is faithful and through Him the Corinthian brethren were called into fellowship with God’s Son (v. 9). All of these are perfect things because they represent the divine side of the church. In the last verse of this letter Paul writes:
24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen (1 Cor. 16:24).
In between the opening and closing of this letter, Paul basically says, “You people are an absolute mess.” The Corinthian church had more than its fair share of problems. It was far from perfect, but Paul was still addressing Christians. He still considered these flawed humans to be children of God. The divine side was perfect, and it had provided them with salvation and membership within the Lord’s church. Paul thanked God for and deeply loved one of the messiest churches in the New Testament. That should tell us something.
The first church had many problems; many of the same problems we have today. But throughout the New Testament, we see Paul and others addressing these problems while not giving up on the church as a whole. The church was God’s design. Jesus died for it; therefore, Paul and others fought for her unity, her soundness, and her purity. It wasn’t the divine side that needed to be fixed. It was perfect. It was the human side that needed to be addressed.
If all you do is sit at home all day watching the national news; if all you do all day is read the newspaper and listen to Politico on Sirius XM radio; if all you do all day is sit at the DMV or sit in Dallas traffic; you’re going to develop a pretty negative view of the world. You’re only getting one perspective. It’s like the guy who’s only been to one church one time in his life and it was a rather negative experience. He draws the conclusion that ALL churches are judgmental and hypocritical. He swears to never open a Bible or attend any church ever again. That’s painting with a broad brush if there were ever such a thing.
We need a bigger perspective. There’s a lot of bad news floating around about the church. It’s sort of in vogue these days to criticize the church. You hear a lot of talk about people getting away from what they call “Institutionalized Religion.” It’s very hip and millennial to say, “I love Jesus but hate the church.” Forgive my frankness, but that’s all a bunch of bunk. I realize that there are “bad” churches. I also acknowledge that some people have had a bad experience with church, but that doesn’t mean that ALL churches are toxic. Christ’s beautiful bride is alive and well in many places. The Oldham Lane Church of Christ, where I serve, is one of them.
I just want to say, “Thank you,” to all members of the Lord’s Church who do their utmost to contribute to her beauty. I want to say, “Thank you,” to the elders for leading the congregations where they serve in a beautiful direction. I want to thank the deacons for taking on the task of keeping the church radiant. And I want to thank the ministers for laboring diligently as they seek to share the GOOD news. I love you all, even though you’re not perfect!