It is a display of God’s wisdom that he binds us together in local church communities. We know it is a mark of his wisdom, yet sometimes it can feel so much like folly. Sometimes we grow weary of being around people who are sinful, who are selfish, who still have so far to go. In other words, sometimes we grow weary of being around people who are just like us. At times like these, we can benefit from a reminder of what God is doing in and through his people.
In the book of Romans, Paul identifies a problem within the church, an area that has the potential to split apart the congregation. He addresses it in chapters 14 and 15, then says this: “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). I love the superlative language Paul uses here. He indicates he is perfectly convinced that this church is perfectly full of goodness and perfectly full of knowledge and perfectly full of the ability to instruct one another in the perfect Word of God.
It’s obvious this can’t be completely true. These people are still alive so they don’t actually have full goodness and full knowledge. They aren’t fully able to help one another understand and obey God’s Word. So why does Paul act as if they are? Because he loves them and wants to encourage them. He isn’t flattering them; he’s expressing love and joy and confidence.
Paul shows us here and in many other places that there are two ways to look at other Christians. There are two ways for you to look at the people in your own local church—you can look at them by where they’ve come from or by where they still need to go. You can choose to focus on all the progress they’ve made, or you can choose to focus on all the progress they still need to make.
Time and again, Paul chooses to look at the progress people have made and to focus on that. He knows they have a long way to go before they perfectly reflect Jesus Christ, but he chooses to focus on their virtues. He chooses to focus on how far they have come. He chooses to be satisfied.
How about you? When you spend time with the brothers and sisters at your local church, do you find yourself easily frustrated by them? Do you find yourself dismayed by their behavior? Do you find yourself growing weary of their sin and sinfulness? Perhaps the best thing you can do is to step back to consider where they have come from and to remember who they once were. Think back to their baptism testimonies where they told about those deep patterns of sin that had consumed their lives for so many years. Think back to who they were when they first walked through those doors as unbelievers or as brand new believers.
Do that, and I think you’ll find yourself motivated to thank God for all the evidences of his grace you see in their lives. Hopefully you’ll also find yourself motivated to tell them of all the evidences of grace you see in their lives. Yes, you will inevitably see plenty of evidences of remaining sin, as well. But choose to focus on grace. That will encourage you and equip you to encourage them.
The church is not an art museum to display perfect masterpieces. It’s not a natural museum to display perfect specimens. The church is a hospital to heal the sick, and it takes time to heal people from a deadly disease. You can’t act surprised when a hospital is full of sick people and shouldn’t be surprised when a church is full of messy, sinful people. After all, it is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those we are sick. It is not those who are righteous who need Jesus, but sinners.
Take your cue from Paul and make it your habit to see grace. Choose to commend others, to encourage them, to be encouraged by them, and to deliberately share evidences of God’s grace with them. It will bless you to be a blessing to them.