Store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven
where moth and rust cannot destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How Can We Know God?

Last Sunday we were told that:
. We cannot know God apart from being in community.
. We cannot change deeply apart from community.

That sounded pretty good to me but the people at our table disagreed. One said that he could know God from studying Scripture at home. The other two said they know some people who left the church / congregation after being hurt by the Church and “they have really grown spiritually since leaving the community of believers.”

Wow! Do I ever disagree.

Here’s why:
. We get to know God by obeying Him. We are on this earth to become like Jesus whose main characteristic is love. If we are not in community, if we are not interacting with other people there is no reason to obey Him in those areas that are most crucial to maintaining community which not incidently is the place most conducive to learning and practising love. I see this most often in the community of marriage.

If we want a good marriage, we are forced to obey God. This is true whether we are Christians or not. The things that make for strong, stable marriages are the things that God commands us to do in our relationships with others. To the degree that we obey or disobey God in these areas, to that degree will our marriages be successful.

For example:
"The husband must love his wife and the wife must respect her husband." (Ephesians 5:33).

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), impartial and sincere. Peace makers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3: 17,18 (insertion of spiritual fruit mine).

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, Holy, and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. And forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12, 13)

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

“Don’t provoke or envy one another,” (Galatians 5:26)

Here’s the trick. The things that make for strong, stable marriages, or any relationship for that matter are the things that require our “dying to self.” Strong community requires the kind of love that does not come naturally and when, through the strength of God we obey Him by loving as He loves, THAT is when we come to know God.

For example, when I’m called to sacrificially love my wife, or when I’m required to demonstrate servant leadership in my home, I flinch. I resist. I don’t want to do those things because it hurts my ego. It conflicts with the desires of my natural self which instinctively wants to protect “my rights.” But it’s my natural self that Jesus has come to destroy and when I follow His lead in loving and serving my family, it is then and only then that I realise, “Ah, this is exactly how God loves me. This is what God is like.” I come to know God by obeying Him in community and when I obey Him in community I am changed deeply.

Because I’ve worked with thousands of couples, I know that the first guy is wrong about being able to know God through staying at home and studying the Scriptures. We can know ABOUT God by reading the Bible. God has revealed Himself to us through the Bible so even atheists can know about God by reading the Bible. However, we come to KNOW God in the fullest sense by obeying what He tells us to do in the Bible. That is why Jesus could say to those who “did religious things” in His name, “Get away from Me. I never knew you.”

Dying to self, or Picking up your cross and following Jesus most often means loving others the way that God loves us. The reason that’s what it means is because loving others - as He loves us - is difficult to do. A “cross to bear” isn’t something that comes to us, like an illness, or death or a difficult child. A cross is something that we pick up of our own volition. Loving the difficult to love is just such an example and it’s the main reason, I think, why God brought into being the institution of marriage. For it is in marriage specifically and other committed communities generally that we truly learn what it means to love. Jesus, our example and character goal, came to earth knowing in advance that He would be abused, misunderstood, mistreated, rejected, insulted, betrayed and ultimately have humanity do our absolute worst to Him. Yet He entered into a covenant relationship with us anyway because He loves us. And then Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow Me (be like Me, do what I did, act like I did), in your covenant relationship with your spouse.” Jesus also said that if you “Do not pick up your cross and follow Me you cannot be My disciple.” Notice that He didn’t say, “You won’t be a very good disciple, if you don’t pick up your cross and follow Me.” He said, “You are NOT My disciple if you do not pick up your cross and follow Me, become like Me, do what I did in My relationship with others.”

. Regarding those who left the church community after being hurt and saying that they were really growing spiritually, the exact opposite must of necessity take place. Our relationship with God, our ability to know God can only atrophy in that scenario for precisely the reasons just mentioned. Of course we can learn some things about ourselves after a relational hurt. We might even be driven to seek God more diligently after a relationship breakdown, but it is only in obedience to God within community that causes us to grow into Christlikeness.

. Growing into Christlikeness is THE good that God promises to bring out of “all things,” in Romans 8:28.
. Growing into Christlikeness is THE main reason for which we have been placed on this earth. Romans 8:29

So, I agree with the premise:
. We cannot know God apart from being in community.
. We cannot change deeply apart from community.

There was one more point that is part of this package that I haven’t mentioned yet.
. We cannot win the world without community.

Jesus said, “They will know that I exist because you love one another.” The world cannot see us loving one another if we are not in community. The world cannot see us loving one another if we walk away from the community (marriage included) that may very well hurt us. We cannot learn to obey God by loving the difficult to love if we avoid the difficult to love. God loves us - the difficult to love - and we can only know what that is like, we can only come to know God, by allowing Him to change us into those people who love others as He loves us.

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