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I’m in the middle of reading The Body by Bill Bryson. It is both uplifting and tragic. Uplifting because every page is crammed full of detailed observations about just how fearfully and wonderfully made the human body is; tragic because Bryson, for all his rapturous marveling, cannot see the fingerprints of God on everything he is describing but instead attributes them to the blind “processes” of evolution.

One of the many wonders that Bryson sets forth so clearly is the miraculous way that the many and various parts of the body work together for the good of the whole. For example:

Our bodies are a universe of 37.2 trillion cells operating in more or less perfect concert more or less all the time. An ache, a twinge of indigestion, the odd bruise or pimple is about all that in the normal course of things announces our imperfectability.

This harmonious cooperation of many and varied parts is one of the pictures the Lord uses to describe what the church is and how it ought to function. Christians are joined to Christ, which means that we are all joined to one another as well. That brings many responsibilities and privileges as we go about “life together,” to borrow Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase. It is summed up by Romans 12:5: “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

Generally speaking, Western Christians are not good at thinking of ourselves as “members one of another.” So it’s good to be reminded regularly that a great deal of Christian discipleship takes place corporately, in the context of the church. One of the best reminders of this in the New Testament is in Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

“Love and good works” is a good summary of what the Christian life is all about. Jesus explained that love for God and love for neighbor sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:37–40). And genuine love is practical—it isn’t just words but shows itself in good works (1 John 3:18). So how do we stir one another up to love and good works? By meeting together and encouraging one another. How does that work?

Meeting together gives us the opportunity to learn from other Christians. We are called to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14). Human beings learn so many things, even subconsciously, by observation and imitation, and this is true spiritually. As you hear older Christians pray, you pick up their emphases and burdens and even their phraseology in prayer. As you pray with others with their particular interests and backgrounds, you realize you have prayed about the same issue from ten different angles, instead of the one or two you would have thought of if you had prayed alone at home.

In the church we replay the dynamic of the gospel over and over for all to see and rejoice in.

As you watch more mature Christians dealing with their children and relating to their spouses, you are learning far more about Christian parenting and marriage than you realize. As you hear more godly believers speaking with grace, gentleness, and courtesy in members’ meetings, you are learning how Christians ought to express themselves. As you watch them interact with others in Bible studies, you see meekness, humility, and wisdom lived out in front of you rather than defined propositionally in a book. By their lives, we are stirred up to love the Lord and one another more; we have a greater desire for and understanding of the good works He calls us to.

Meeting together for public worship on the Lord’s Day gives us the opportunity to be encouraged by the sacraments and by the corporate singing of praise as we teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3.16). As we meet, we are stirred up and encouraged by the trustworthy teachers who have been called and equipped by the Lord, whose calling has been recognized by the church and who have been given the solemn responsibility of watching over your soul (Heb. 13:17). Your pastor has spent his week studying a particular text of Scripture with you and your congregation in mind, praying that the Holy Spirit will help him understand it and apply it rightly to you, praying for you to be shaped and transformed by that message. As we sit under the ministry of the Word together, as we hear what the Lord is saying to His people, we are admonished and exhorted to love and good works.

Meeting together is sometimes messy. We sin against one another. We are frustrated and irritated by the weak, the silly, the complaining, the self-pitying among our brethren. It would be so much easier to stay home and get our teaching online. But the Lord works all things for His people’s good, and the very presence of tensions and sins can be a means of sanctification in His hands. Trials (and trying people) teach us patience and steadfastness (James 1:2–4). When we are sinned against, we learn to forgive whatever grievance we have, just as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). When we sin, we learn to humble ourselves, perhaps even publicly, confess it, repent, and receive forgiveness. In the church, we replay the dynamic of the gospel over and over for all to see and rejoice in.

If your love and good works are waning, could it be that you are undervaluing the role of your brothers and sisters in your sanctification? I wonder, when churches have been unable to meet in person for the sake of our own and our neighbors’ health, have we felt keenly the absence of this God-ordained setting for discipleship?

Humility, Contrition, and Trembling

Concerned with the Wrong Table

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From the September 2020 Issue
Sep 2020 Issue