As the year 2013 begins I’m still buoyed by the soul-stirring Sunday evening praise and thanksgiving service we had to close out 2012. If you missed it, it was a richly encouraging time that, quite unexpectedly, lasted almost two hours as we corporately gave thanks for God’s works of grace in our lives. Our time of sharing reminded me of the distinctiveness of God’s church. We are a peculiar people.
The peculiarity of the church is neatly summarized by a quote I recently ran across: “The church is a place where people who we would not choose for friends become our brothers and sisters” (Matt Jenson and David Wilhite). By God’s grace this reality pervades our fellowship at Gainsville. Let me explain.
First, this quote doesn’t at all mean that you, the people of Gainsville, aren’t my friends—because you are! And second, it certainly doesn’t mean that the people of Gainsville aren’t “friends material”—because you are. What it does highlight, however, is the strangeness of our gathering. This was in full evidence the evening of our praise service as families with young children, high schoolers, collegians, young professionals, middle-aged parents, empty-nesters, grandparents, and senior saints gathered to praise God. But the diversity of our group isn’t limited to age. I’ll use myself as an example to illustrate this point.
Our church, as you know, has a number of men and women who enjoy hunting. We have an Outdoormen’s ministry (for which I’m thankful!). But I don’t hunt. I’ve never hunted. I have female youth who have killed more deer than I have! Yet I have treasured brothers and sisters for whom this is a passion. We have at our church an emerging group of folks who enjoy riding motorcycles. I praise God for this. But I’ve never even been on a motorcycle. It’s not my thing. But I have brothers and sisters who enjoy this. We have in our church, sadly, a large number of widows who are pressing forward in their lives with the loss of a husband. We have several widowers as well. Obviously I can’t directly relate. But I love these brothers and sisters and enjoy knowing them. We have in our midst small business owners, factory workers, teachers, retirees, medical professionals—all of whom walk in very different areas of life. And yet I’m privileged to count folks from these diverse professions as my brothers and sisters.
I could multiply examples, but I think the point is sufficiently illustrated: were I to rub shoulders with one of you hunters or bikers or widows or retirees in Wal-Mart, we might not get very far in conversation. On the basis of that random encounter, we probably would not select one another as friends. But as the bride of Christ, we are united by one thing that transcends all sorts of differences that would normally keep us separate. This one thing is Christ.
We gather to treasure and adore our Savior and spur one another on to loving him and serving him more faithfully. But the glory of the church is that in Christ we are even more than friends—we are brothers and sisters who will bow shoulder to shoulder worshiping Christ our King for eternity. (That’s why—as an aside—we should be wary of niche churches which by design cater mainly to people of similar interests or ages.) The glory of the church is its peculiarity, and its peculiarity lies (at least partly) in its diversity. Our Lord Jesus Christ is a barrier-shattering Savior (Eph 2:11–22) who unites people from all tribes and tongues and nations to praise his name (Rev 5:9). As we begin a new year of ministry together, let’s renew our commitment to love and spur one another one toward love and good deeds, united in all our uniqueness by our joint adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High God.