Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:3-8 (NASB)
Hymn: "Praise to the Lord, The Almighty" Joachim Neander, trans. Catherine Winkworth
If I had a dollar for every person who I've seen hurt by the church, or who told me about how a similar hurt drove them out of Christianity, I could likely begin my future missions work today with little, if any, fundraising.
Now, there is a certain degree to which the severity of pains suffered at church are inflated simply because of the nature of the church. This is a place that people invest deeply in, where we are encouraged to consider each other family, where we look at the love described of Christ and then find our fellows to fall so short of that mark. But rather than belittling these concerns, this should highlight the fact that the blows do happen, and they stand in stark contrast to Jesus' description that "by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35 NASB). But what can we do?
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is explaining that there are some things the mature Christian can do and environments they can enter because they have come to know Christ well enough to discern a healthy way to do so, but there are other Christians who may, even if mature in other ways, struggle with those particular things and environments. Now, this is not the specific nature of the examples I gave above, but the principle he then describes still applies: we, as Christians, need to consider the spiritual well-being of those around us as more important than ourselves.
Neither I, nor Paul, argue that we should let sin reign in the church just so we can hopefully keep the people comfortable with that sin around long enough that they might catch religion. But when someone who needs a word of advice or correction is approached in a painful way because the one approaching is not comfortable doing it in a way that is healthy for the recipient, that is a problem. When the deacon puts the goals and expectations of their own little area of ministry over the needs of the body or even the needs of an individual within that body, that is a problem. When we drive someone out and openly condemn them because they, while holding sound doctrine and a visibly growing relationship with Christ, don't practice Christianity in the exact way we want it practiced, that is a problem. We have this understanding, that I've heard attributed to a number of church fathers, that withholding resources that we have in abundance is the same as stealing from those who need those resources; is that not true also of withholding a word of comfort or an apology or a promise to correct errors, when we have the full power to do so and a brother or sister is in need of it?
Paul tells us to put others in the body before ourselves, to the point that we may even have to give up things that we know we don't do in sin, if it helps someone else not fall into sin. And he tells us in Romans that this is done in line with the example set by Christ. Consider:
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME."...Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Romans 15:1-3, 7 (NASB)
Christ gave up Heaven, He gave up all status and glory and authority to accept us. In the end He regained all of it, but Christ gave up everything that was rightfully His in order to accept us. If we are to accept our brothers and sisters in Christ just as Christ has accepted us, then we need to set aside our preferences and our desires and our comforts whenever they would hinder the spiritual health of those around us. But the example Christ gave isn't even limited to those in our family of faith. After all, everyone Christ died for was an enemy of God when He died. Following the example of Christ means spreading this love even to those who are not in the church, even to those who would oppose the church, even to those who would kill us given the chance, just as Jesus loved those who mocked Him as He hung on their cross. Jesus, having just told His followers to love even their enemies, observes:
If you love those who love you, what credit is [that] to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is [that] to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is [that] to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same [amount.] But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil [men.] Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:32-36 (NASB)
It is not enough to simply try to do these things, however. We cannot love each other perfectly, but Christ can love perfectly through us. We cannot build the perfect church through our own efforts, for "unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it" (Psalm 127:1a NASB). We must allow God to change our hearts, guide our relationships, love those around us with our hands and our mouths and our feet and our resources.
Do I glorify God by how I treat the people around me? Do I reflect His love for them in all my dealings? If not, may I be quick to repent and place these things in the hands of the only One who is truly capable.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation