Of all the things that you will learn in your Christian walk, one thing is for certain…Christians are messy. As much as we expect that the new birth (2 Corinthians 5:17) would iron out all the flaws in our brothers and sisters, there remain many quirks, tendencies and annoyances that cause people in our churches and circles (including me and you) to be insufferable.
Every Christian (and even the staunchest of atheists) has heard Jesus’s command to love our brothers and sisters. I’ve often heard it said that “you can love people, but you don’t have to like them“. This sounds reasonable, but is this the attitude that Christ has towards us, and is satisfied with us having towards others, especially those whom he died for? And we all know that without the motivation, our “love” for messy Christians will be no more than an “I’m praying for you” occasionally, without truly serving them practically (James 2:15).
It is crucial for us to not only treat others the way Christ calls us to, but to think and feel about others the way Christ wants us to. To help create this attitude shift, let’s look at 4 things Paul teaches us from 1 Corinthians 12 that will motivate us to love Christians that we don’t like.
1. Focus on the common ground
– For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. – 1 Cor 12:12
For all our differences, the one thing we have in common is the most glorious thing about us. Our identity in Christ. The same Spirit has brought us all into communion not only with Christ but with each other.
A great way to demonstrate this communion is to understand the redemption of our sin. You could write all your known sin issues on a piece of paper (and if you do this honestly, it should cause some discomfort). The lying, sexual sin, greed, jealousy, cheating, stealing, anger issues, bullying… the list goes on. In our salvation, we hand the record of our sin over to Jesus and in his death, burial and resurrection, he pays the price of it all, tears up the paper and says “You are forgiven. You are clean. God and sin no more” (1 John 1:9, John 8:11).
He does the same for the Christians that you can not stand. You could also write every flaw of other believers on a piece of paper, hand it to Christ and He tears that up also. How wonderful is that! Let’s focus on that common ground – our common salvation (Jude 3). In your thoughts and prayers about others, don’t be more concerned with what you wish they would be than you are thankful to God for who they are. Just like you, they are redeemed.
2. Look at what God is doing
For the body does not consist of one member but of many… But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. – 1 Cor 12:14, 18
When God calls us to commit to a local church (Hebrews 10:25), He’s aware of our flaws, and intentionally placed us together as one. This is not accidental. The same way that the Lord is intentional in weaving our physical bodies (Psalm 139:13), He is intentional in the weaving of the body of Christ.
By putting together incompatible people, God provides the context for us to fulfil our purpose as Christians. We often think of purpose in the sense of career or achievement. But how often do we consider our purpose to forgive those who wrong us, encourage the unmotivated, help the seemingly useless, show kindness to the mean, be generous to the needy? Don’t think that the perfect church for you is one where everyone fits your preference. God has intentionally placed you with those you can’t stand, so you would learn to humble yourself as Jesus does (Romans 5:6-8).
3. Weaker does not mean worse
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty – 1 Cor 12:22
The word weak is the same word Paul used in 1 Cor 8:7. He describes a Christian with limited theological knowledge and a weak conscience. Often, our reasons for not liking certain Christians are because of ways that they do not live up to our expectations of them. Yet the weak Christian is indispensable according to Paul. This means more than just “being welcome” to come as they please. Paul is telling us that as a body, we cannot do without them, even with their flaws and quirks. You may be put off by their lack of wisdom, lack of patience, lack of optimism, lack of self-control, “extrovertedness” or “introvertedness”. And yet, they are still indispensable to God, and so should be indispensable to you also. Likewise, you, with all your flaws, are indispensable.
Although people are weak in some areas, we shouldn’t only focus on what they or we don’t bring to the table, but celebrate and focus on what we bring to the body.
4. Do it for the glory of God
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor 12:27
The body is the representation of Christ on Earth. This means our role as believers is to live in a way that demonstrates our faith which we can explain through our testimony. If Jesus gave his life up for people he didn’t “click” with (Ephesians 2:1-3), then we can and should desire to do the same.
Imagine if you were to invite a close secondary school friend to church. They’ve known you well and know your preferences to some extent. If they were to see you showering another believer with loving-kindness, knowing how incompatible you are with that person, how great of a gospel witness would that be? If they ask you about it, you now have a great illustration to show them practically how Jesus change lives. It’s a beautiful picture of the gospel.
Don’t see this as something you just have to put up with. See it as a way to fulfil your calling as an ambassador of Christ and pray that your attitude towards the intolerable would reflect that.
If we are to truly obey the commands of Jesus, we have to go past mere tolerance of others and pursue the desire to serve them no matter how intolerable they are. Through prayer, scripture reading and investing in the local church community, our attitude, and therefore our actions, to Christ’s people will overflow with Christ centred love. We must lean on the same Spirit that baptised us into one body to empower us with a beautiful attitude to members of his body, no matter how little they suit our preferences.