Growing up, there were times in our local church when being around other believers became troublesome and tedious. That’s when someone would usually say: “To live above with the saints in love… that will be glory! But to live here below with the folks I know… that’s another story!” Everyone would laugh, but too often there remained an undercurrent of frustration and disappointment. This prompted me to wonder: “Why is church life so difficult?”
Being with other Christians can be wonderful. God has placed us in His spiritual family, the Church, to encourage us, protect us, correct us, direct us, and provide for us. There are specific situations that help believers experience beneficial relationships with other Christians. Each of these experiences plays a unique role in helping to form us spiritually, but each requires some effort. Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing. (cf. Hebrews 10: 24-25)
But sometimes being with other Christians can be painful. Proverbs affirms this tension: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” A sharp tool makes work easier and more productive, but the sharpening file causes sparks to fly. Anyone who’s been part of a church for a while can identify. People can be petty and immature. We’re all human, but we expect more from fellow believers.
In the first century there were very few church buildings. Mostly the believers met together in private homes for Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. This close proximity allowed for greater intimacy, but it also created the possibility of conflict. No doubt this prompted the apostles to write such passages as Romans 12: 10-21. The closer we get to people the more they encourage us, but we can also see their faults more clearly; and they can see ours!
So church life is both challenging and blessed. In light of this, one of the commodities most needed in the church is maturity, evidenced by servant-hearted love. Paul seemed to have this in mind when he spoke to a very immature church of a better, “most excellent way”: Love that never fails! (I Cor. 13: 1-10.) God is in the process of changing us into His likeness, but sometimes change takes time and requires effort. The outcome (maturity) is worth it, but the process is still painful. So we persevere, loving each other, and forbearing with each other.
What are some of the ways you have seen God use the church to help you grow to maturity?