“I have a lot to catch you up on. So I’m just going to talk, OK?” I smiled at Chris and nodded. I had nothing to talk about. Plus, I enjoy hearing about my friend’s life.
He took a sip of coffee. I took a sip. Then he talked for maybe forty-five minutes? Maybe sixty?
He walked me through the last month of a relationship that looks to be heading to marriage. The month presented some challenges. Some inner turmoil. Some misunderstandings with another church member. But the major theme of his story: God walked him through the challenges, the turmoil, the misunderstandings.
I asked a few questions. Mostly I lost myself in listening.
Chris is highly intelligent, socially perceptive, and emotionally complicated, owing in part to the scars of childhood. He always feels out of place. He experiences a number of panic-inducing “triggers” (his word) in all his relationships. Trust is hard won and easily lost. Self-loathing is a close friend.
Yet, supernaturally, Chris understands the gospel of justification by faith alone. He is learning to recognize that his old companions, flight and self-loathing, have biblical names: fear of man, shame, sin. More importantly, he’s learning to confront these characters with truths about God’s love and imputed righteousness. His weak knees are becoming strong (see Heb. 12:12).
His story ended. My heart was rejoicing.
The joy of church membership was right there at that coffee shop table on that late Tuesday afternoon. The joy of church membership is forgetting yourself for a few paltry moments—how hard that is to do—and losing yourself in a story about God’s work in a brother or sister’s life.
After a couple moments of silence, I asked, “Chris, do you see how our tender Father in heaven has so gently, so deliberately placed one stepping stone after another in front of you? Do you see how much He loves you?”
I teared up thinking about the Father’s love for Chris. He teared up seeing me tear up.
Church membership begins when we recognize one another (through baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as members of the body of Christ. Church membership is you becoming a bigger you. Maybe you’re the hand or the foot.
And the joy of church membership resides here—in this bigger you. If the hand hurts, the whole body hurts. If the head rejoices, the whole body rejoices (1 Cor. 12:12–27). The joy in your friend is the joy in you because you’re both united to Christ, who transmits the very joy of God (see Luke 11:11–13; 1 Thess. 1:6). The source of joy is always the gospel, yet we experience it as we learn to walk together in the gospel (3 John 4), to be of the same mind and the same love (Phil. 2:2).
Can you look to the members of your church and say, like Paul, “You are my joy” (1 Thess. 2:20). If not, start here: remember that the heavenly Father beholds you in Christ and says those very words (Zeph. 3:17; see John 17:22–26).