The 4+1 of Belonging
Sitting across from the counselor was frustrating. With each statement I made she followed with "how does that make you feel?" Facts were important, the laundry list of complaints, injustice, and justification was all that was needed. Yet, she asked, "How does that make you feel?" Our feelings, I have learned, are the borameters of our behavior. They motivate us, console us, tempt us to act out positively or negatively. When we understand the root we can deal with the tree. Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:13
That is why Jesus came to change the heart, to destroy the old cold stone and replace it with warm beating flesh. our character comes from the heart and it is either good or bad. From our character springs forth behavior that impacts the world around us, especially the communities to which we belong. As believers we belong to one another and the character that we put on results in behavior that helps us to belong to one another in unity. The Apostle Paul said that as we develop our character we are to, "[bear] with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." Colossians 3:13-15
Bearing with one another. Bearing with another person is to patiently put up with their bad behavior. It's end result is reconciliation and restoration. It doesn't ignore sin, but it doesn't reject the sinner. It's sticking with a brother/sister even when they constantly hurt you. We should never endure abuse, that is a misrepresentation of what Paul says. In the course of life people sin against us in small ways that are used to justify dissolving relationships. We are to bear with these people.
Forgiving. In fact if one of these people has a complaint against against us we are to forgive them. Forgiving is a judicial term that releases a person from deserving consequences. Instead of standing up and getting even, we let it go and seek reconciliation. Instead of demanding our rights we seek to uplift them before God and seek to resolve the situation. Too often we hold tightly to hurts and recriminations because we believe that to release them is let the perpetrator win. The opposit is true. When we hold on bitterness builds and ultimately we become the prisoner to our own unforgiving heart.
Love. We are admonished to love above all else because it is the glue that binds. As brothers and sisters in Christ we belong to one another, and Jesus said that the world will know we are his disciples if we love one another. It is difficult for us to love people who are not like us, don't like the same things, or are of different cultures. We form or find churches that make us feel comfortable, and when it starts getting uncomfortable we form or find another one. Love, however, doesn't look at what makes us comfortable, but acts for the other person's benefit. Love is other focused, and if each of us lived in this way we would live in perfect harmony.
Give Thanks. A thankful hear is the evidence of a godly life. Show me someone who complains all the time and I will show you an immature believer. Thanksgiving understands God's goodness and accepts his sovereign will for our lives. Thanksgiving knows that God's plan is working itself out for our good. Thanksgiving doesn't get mired in the minutia of life but sees the big picture of the gospel. Thanksgiving understands that circumstances do not determine obedience and attitude. Thanksgiving comprehends that God's love never fails, even when the darkness hides his face.
Peace. This the plus one. After we bear, after we forgive, after we love and give thanks a change occurs in our hearts. We experience a peace that is inexplicable. When the peace of Christ rules our hearts we have reached a place of belonging that secures our souls and anchors our faith in the firm bedrock of our savior. We are unmovable. The world can not overcome us. The evil one can not touch us. The nay-sayers can not discourage us. The storms of life can not consume us. The Peace of Christ is the power and assurance that God is control, and come what may in Him we can stand.
Belonging is reciprocal attitude and behavior. We belong to one another. However, attitude and actions begin with me, and I am not to wait for my brothers and sisters to bear, forgive, and love first. In the process of living together in Christ our belonging becomes complete and we live together in harmony. The church is the only place where true belonging can occur because it is the place that the Holy Spirit calls home. I'm just saying.