Spread Freedom: Make Church, Christ, Central by Loving
Let's make a difference by using our independence, our God-given freedom, to bless the world. Let's take a closer look at how the author of Ephesians expects us to use our freedom, as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson. (All citations are from Peterson's The Message.) Near the beginning, we read:
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah … we're a free people -- free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! (The Message, Eph. 1:7, 8)
What a wonderful gift. We are "abundantly free!"
- Do we feel abundantly free?
- Do we act as if we're abundantly free?
- Or do we still feel like past mistakes or present conditions are infringing on our freedom?
Let's claim our freedom from the penalties and punishments of mistakes.
- Let's stop being enslaved by self-imposed limitations.
- Let's stop making the same mistakes over and over again. As long as we keep ignoring what God wants us to do, we'll keep running into road blocks, falling down, and getting hurt – not because God is punishing us. No. God doesn't punish. God blesses. But mistakes, sin, misdeeds bring about their own consequences.
- Let's start obeying God's directives. As soon as we do, we'll get to experience the freedom that is ours by inheritance.
- Let's start using our freedom to bless others.
Spread Freedom throughout the World by Making Church Central
How does making church central spread freedom? Before we answer that question, let's answer this question: "What is our concept of church?"
- Is it a building in which a particular group of people follows a set of religious doctrines?
- Is it a time to socialize with our friends?
- Is our concept of church inclusive or exclusive?
- Do we feel superior to or avoid others because they don't have our concept of church?
- Do we actively pray against others' concept of church?
If our definition of church is not inclusive or loving, then we may be misunderstanding what church is all about:
- "The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board" (3:6).
- "Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence" (1:21-23).
Wow! Christ is the very essence of church. Christ's message is for everyone. So we have some more questions to ask ourselves:
- Are we making church central in our lives?
- Are we welcoming to everyone?
- Is our concept of church filled with the presence of the Christ?
- Do we feel our own lives filled with the presence of Christ?
Why is it so important to feel the presence of Christ?
- "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for" (1:11-12).
- "It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free -- signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit" (1:13).
In Christ we find freedom! And only by understanding Christ are we able to understand church and Christ's universal message and purpose. The one message that Christ Jesus gave us, more than any other message, was to love:
I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love…. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. (John 15:9, 10, 12)
If we learn no other message from the life and words of Christ Jesus than to love, we will have learned enough to make a difference in the world.
Church = Christ = Love = Freedom
So how do church and freedom relate?
- The real purpose of church is to share with others the love of Christ by loving purely, freely, and abundantly.
- When others feel the love of Christ, they will feel, rejoice in, claim, and experience their God-given freedom.
- Therefore, the most effective way to spread freedom by making church central, not just in our own lives but in the world, is to love others.
This necessity for love is iterated in a prayer for the Ephesians (and now us), asking God:
… that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in… that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in … the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-19)
Let's receive the blessings of this prayer by going out and loving -- not selectively, but universally, loving family, friends, fellow church members, those who attend other churches, strangers, and even those whom we've labeled (incorrectly) as enemies.
Work with Unity
Often we find it's easier to love those with whom we do not have to work closely. But if we are to love, as Jesus and his disciples have commanded us, we must love at home and afar. One visible sign of loving others is to work in unity with them, to mend fences, to find solutions, to emphasize what's good, to appreciate all the work they're doing for church or family, etc. If we tear each other apart in our own churches, what good are we to the world? We are counseled:
- "I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel" (4:1).
- "You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly" (4:4).
- "Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness" (4:6).
The more we understand our oneness with God, the more we will experience our oneness with others.
Reflect God's Love
So what do we do if we …
- need to change our concept of church,
- yearn to feel the presence of Christ,
- feel that our church or other churches aren't very loving,
- have been hurt or have hurt others,
- need to be more inclusive,
- need to express the Christ more by loving more?
It's nice to know that we don't have to solve the problems by ourselves. In fact, the only thing we need to do is reflect God:
- "[E]verything connected with that old way of life has to go…. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life -- a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you" (4:22-24)
- "Watch what God does, and then you do it…. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love" (5:1, 2)
Let's enjoy renewing our concept of Christ, the essence of church, by reflecting God's love in all of our dealings, and so spread freedom throughout the world.