When I first started marriage counseling while at seminary in California, I felt such great grief over the couples with whom I was meeting. Over the first few sessions with these couples, what I saw was professing Christian husbands and wives completely at odds with one another, acting and speaking toward each other in such vicious ways that even unbelievers would be ashamed. The unforgiveness, selfishness, and pride were so ugly; I felt like my heart was being weighed down even outside our counseling meetings. When I met with my pastor and counseling trainer for further direction, he said something that has always stuck with me: “When you see what sin has done to other marriages, thank God for your own good marriage.”
Truly, it’s easy to take for granted good gifts, even good marriages. We can start to nitpick and complain about our spouses for not being perfectly godly or for not being everything we ever wanted. But when we remember 1) that we did nothing to deserve a good spouse or marriage (Prov 18:22; 19:14), 2) that even what we did do in wisdom and righteousness was all of God and not ourselves (1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:12-13), and 3) that many—even the vast majority of married people—do not have that kind of marriage (Prov 21:9; Titus 3:3), we should feel sober and humble gratitude. More than that, we should be moved to care diligently for our marriages and spouses since the gift of a good marriage is so easily spoiled by just a little foolishness and sin (Song 2:15; Eccl 9:18; 10:1).
Christians should have a similar cherishing mindset when it comes to the local church. Pastor Babij has recently been showing us from Jude the absolute horror of what goes on in many churches around the world because of false teachers: these teachers pretend to speak for God but only offer their own sinful delusions and useless opinions, they look to exploit their flocks via monetary greed and sexual immorality, and they lead their followers down of path of false peace that ultimately results in ruined lives and eternal judgment (Jude 8-11). Thank God if such is not the case at your church! Even if you only go to a decent church, praise God! Because many poor souls do not even have that. And what, really, did you do to deserve the fellowship and ministry of a good church? What makes you so different from others who do not have a good church? We must ultimately confess that whatever good we have, even our churches, is an undeserved gift from God (1 Cor 4:7).
I am always saddened, therefore, when people so quickly give up a good church. Maybe it didn’t have all the ministries they wanted. Maybe the music wasn’t exactly to their taste. Maybe someone in the church offended or sinned against them. But they then abstain from the church or even leave it altogether to search for another. If good churches were a-dime-a-dozen today, maybe such behavior would be more understandable. But why would someone so easily give up on a good church when a good church is so hard to find? Perhaps people, like those looking for perfect spouses today, are led on by the dream of a perfect church somewhere where everyone is perfectly godly and all desires and preferences are fulfilled. No such church exists, and even if it did—as is often well said—you better not join it, because then you would ruin it!
The reality about churches according to the NT is that every church has problems. This is because churches are made up sinners—sinners redeemed and regenerated to walk anew—but sinners nonetheless. But an imperfect church can still be a good church, and you would be a fool to pass up the good church you have for the perfect church that only exists in your own mind (cf. Eccl 9:9). Cherishing a good but imperfect church requires humility and faith in God as well as a firm commitment to show patient love to brethren who still sometimes fail just like you do (Eph 4:1-3; Phil 2:1-11). You must also be diligent to serve and protect the church with the gifts Christ gave you (Eph 4:11-16). But when you and I cherish the church this way—without looking for too much from church—we will find that, like a good marriage, a good church can be thankfully enjoyed to the glory of God, and the people of that church can become powerful witnesses of the grace of Christ to the world.
Philippians 2:14-16, Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
Questions to Consider:
1. Do you cherish your church? Why or why not?
2. What are good reasons to leave a church? What are not good reasons?
3. How can you help be part of the solution to the problems your church still has?