Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Church Covenant Series: Part 7 of 11

We continue our exposition of the eleven paragraphs of the JPBC Church Covenant. Paragraph seven reads:

As members of the family of God, we will watch over each other in brotherly love. We will pray for each other, because we are all in need. We will aid each other in times of trouble, bearing each others’ burdens. We will humbly warn a brother who is in danger of falling into disobedience or error. We will speak the truth in love, be slow to take offense, and be eager to seek swift and lasting reconciliation.

This section reminds us that the church is to operate like a close family. We are to be like brothers and sisters who are constantly looking out for each other, encouraging one another, and—when we wander off course—gently admonishing one another.

This includes looking out for each other’s material needs. In Galatians 6:2 Paul wrote: "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Just a few verses later, however, he added: "For each one shall bear his own load" (v. 5). We are to help each other in times of real need without fostering unhealthy patterns of dependence.

It also involves looking out for each other’s spiritual needs. When we see a brother doing right we ought to praise and encourage him to continue. By the same token—and this is usually more difficult—when we see a brother "falling into disobedience or error" we ought to warn him. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul wrote: "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all."

We are to engage in this family care with much patience, love, and humility. Our covenant paraphrases several key passages of Scripture. In Ephesians 4:15 Paul says we are to be "speaking the truth in love." This points to two key attitudes. First, we should not be afraid to speak the truth. Second, we should do so with a loving spirit. To speak truth without love is in error. To be loving without being truthful is equally in error.

In James 1:19 we read: "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." As one put it, we are to have big ears and small mouths. We are to examine ourselves before we judge others (Matthew 7:1; 1 Corinthians 11:31).

Our covenant reminds us that if ever our feelings get hurt because of an inter-personal conflict in the church that we are "to seek swift and lasting reconciliation." Jesus taught that "if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). Paul warned that we are not to let the sun set on our wrath and so give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26-27). Too many times I have seen Christians respond to conflict by running away from the church rather than running toward reconciliation. This is not Biblical or right. It robs us of an opportunity to grow stronger in the faith and in the fellowship.

I recently read a history of the Lyells Baptist Church of Fluvanna County, Virginia (established 1774). In the early days the church practiced meaningful church discipline. One of the examples cited from the church record involved a dispute between two brothers who were neighbors. It seems that the hogs of one kept getting into the cornfield of the other. In distress the offended brother asked the church what he should do about it. The record reads that "The dispute ended by the two men agreeing to ‘bare with each other: and extending the right hand of fellowship.’"

May this spirit of family care and concern govern our lives as a church body.

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