In January of 2008, Christianity Today quoted Robert Pollack, the lawyer for Cynthia Howell. Cynthia was suing her husband, Reynold Howell, the pastor of Grace Christian Church of Brooklyn, and wanted the church “considered a marital asset in their divorce.” In other words, she wanted the court to give her the church the way a judge might decide to give one spouse the house or one of the cars. The comment that Christianity Todayquoted from her lawyer truly gives one pause. Robert Pollack said: “That church is no different than any other business he might have opened.”
I have been chewing on that statement, off and on, ever since I first read it ten years ago: “That church is no different than any other business he might have opened.” And my question is this: is Robert Pollack correct? Is the church no different than any other business that might be opened? It seems to me that this is one of the truly important questions. Is there anything different about the church, about who we are, about what we do? Or is it just another business after all?
The great tragedy is that any study of Christian history would reveal that oftentimes the church has acted just like any other business. To our shame the church throughout the ages and around the world has sometimes exhibited the same cunning politics, the same corporate greed, and the same disregard for actual humanity that we see in the cut-throat maneuvering of so much of the secular business world.
But must it be that way? Must the church act like any other business? I think not, and to that end we have been given the words of Jesus and the apostles to steer us home. And, on the basis of this, our church, like many others, has drawn up a covenant, an agreement of expectations for who we want to be. We have done this because we have a basic shared belief that the church is not just like any other business, that there is something different about the church. The gospel is at the center of the church! Christ is in our midst! And He is making of us a new people, a different people, a people who look different from the world.
As we have considered how we should look different from the world, we come today to the idea of protection. Here is how our covenant puts it:
As a body of born again believers,
We covenant to become an authentic family by
loving one another as Christ loves us,
praying for one another,
speaking truth to one another in love,
being patient with one another,
protecting one another
What an interesting phrase, “protecting one another.” Why would we include this in our covenant? What does it look like to be a church in which we protect each other?
All human beings, especially God’s own people, are the objects of Satan’s wrath and are in need of protection against his schemes.
We begin with a basic theological tenet: all human beings, especially God’s own people, are the objects of Satan’s wrath and are in need of protection against his schemes.
Humanity does not live in a spiritual vacuum. We live rather on a spiritual battlefield. The scriptures, in1 Peter 5, have defined who our enemy is.
8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
What a terrifying image! God’s word tells us that right now the devil is wanting to eat (i.e., devour) everybody in this room. And this is no less true for Christians than it is for the world. In fact, the devil has morerage to pour out on the church because he knows that we are safe in the arms of Jesus and he knows that if he can get one of us to fall it will cause the watching world to doubt Christ Jesus and His gospel.
Let the chilling reality of this sink into your hearts and minds. Look at the person to your left and right and consider this: this week, more than anything else, the devil, that fallen angel of old, desires to destroy the person to your left and to your right. And then consider this: the person to your left and to your right is looking at you! The devil desires to have you as well!
Baptist people sometimes grow uncomfortable around talk of “spiritual warfare.” Some think that kind of talk should be left to the Pentecostals and the charismatics. What a foolish thing to think! The Bible as a whole is saturated with the reality of the spiritual battle that is raging all around us! If that truth is not on your radar then you will not be prepared to be for the people to your left and right what you need to be for them!
Let me be clear: I absolutely believe in the reality of Satan and in the truth that he wants to destroy everybody in this room! This should not cause us to be quivering masses of fear and anxiety. To be like that would be to dishonor the risen Jesus who has taken up residence in your life through the Holy Spirit and Who protects you! But it should lead us to be, as Peter said, “sober-minded” and “watchful.” What I want to argue is that we are not only to be “sober-minded” and “watchful” over ourselves, but also over one another. We must protect one another in the midst of the battle!
Jesus desires for all to be under His protective care.
Protecting humanity is certainly part of who Jesus is and what Jesus desires to do! We see this powerfully illustrated in Matthew 23 when Jesus weeps over stubborn, lost Jerusalem.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
What a picture! Jesus cries out to Jerusalem in her sin and says that He desires to protect her but she will not let Him! The image that he uses is also powerful: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” See here the protection that Jesus Christ offers those who are His and offers to all who will come to Him! In saying this, Jesus made an amazing statement about who He really is as He applied an image of protection to Himself that was applied to God in Psalm 5.
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. 12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
Jesus is our protecting savior! When you come to Him in repentance and faith you are tucked in tight beneath His mighty wings. You are clutched in His strong hand (John 10:29)! There is no safer to place to be than under the protection of Jesus. But this does not mean that the devil will not try! He will tempt you and harass you. This is why we need each other, but, more than that, this is why we need Jesus Christ!
The church may fail to protect its own, but Jesus never does. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul spoke of a time when the church was not there for him but Jesus was.
16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul needed the presence of the church. He needed somebody to stand with him. But the church failed as churches often do. Even so, Christ never does! For “the Lord,” writes Paul, “will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” Christ extends His protection to His people! Even so, should we not do the same in His name?
To protect one another is to extend the love and ministry of Jesus to one another!
If Christ extends His protection to His people, then that means we are partaking in the love and ministry of Jesus Christ when we do the same. But what, practically, does that look like? It looks like many things, and the ways that we protect one another are as unique as the situations we all face. Even so, let me suggest three ways that we help to protect one another in the body of Christ.
We protect one another when we help one another see the work of eternity instead of only the challenge of the moment that threatens to sidetrack us.
One of the ways we protect one another is by helping each other keep perspective. One of the great benefits of being a part of the body of Christ is that it reminds us of a mission that is bigger than just us and a body that is wider than just us. Being a part of the body of Christ should both provide us a framework in which we can receive support and comfort in the midst of our individual trials andprovide us a framework in which we do not get lost in our own heads as we see and participate in the ongoing mission of the church.
I say this because it is sometimes the case that our own lives and our own problems and our own challenges can become so big to us that we cannot see anything but them. But we can be protected from the black hole of our own needs (if it has reached the point where your needs have indeed become a black hole out of which you cannot escape!) when fellow brothers and sisters in Christ come alongside us and say, “I will be with you through this challenge all the way to the end. I will not abandon you. But you cannot get stuck in this. Let us go minister to others who likewise are struggling, and God may help pull you out of the quicksand of your own felt needs. I am not trying to minimize what you are going through, but I fear you are getting stuck in what you are going through.”
Please know what I do notmean by this. I most certainly do not mean that all problems should be whitewashed with busyness. I deplore such whitewashing just as I deplore such busyness! These things have no place in the body of Christ and that is not what love looks like. Nor do I mean that there is a time limit after which we simply leave each other in our problems. No, some problems, by their nature, are ongoing. Love does not count the number of steps it takes in its journey with another!
What I do mean is that there are times when we all lose perspective and do indeed get lost inside our own problems, our own challenges, and our own heads. We have probably all seen this and we have probably all done this! But one of the benefits of being part of the body of Christ is that it grants eternal perspective to our temporal challenges. And, in that context, one of the ways we protect one another from the Satan’s attempt to get us stuck in our own lives is to call each other, appropriately and rightly, in any given situation, to gospel ministry and gospel activity.
In this sense, one of the best protections we can offer one another is protection against our own selves!
We protect one another when we refuse to allow falsehoods about one another to get a foothold in the body of Christ.
Perhaps the most needed protection we can offer, given the nature of the human tongue, is protection against spoken or insinuated or alleged falsehoods about one another. If we could see these falsehoods as what they truly are—doorways through which the devil enters into the church—we would be much more diligent in combating such when they appear.
Consider what is happening when one believer alleges bad behavior against another believer in the presence of other believers. If the allegation is true, then that means the believer being talked about is in the process of being devoured by the devil through whatever bad behavior it is in which he or she is indulging. If, however, the alleged behavior is false, then the person alleging it in the presence of others is being devoured by Satan by giving wings to a lie. In either scenario, announcing the sins of others, real or imagined, for some sort of twisted voyeuristic sport, is highly inappropriate and dangerous!
If you are in the presence of one who tosses around allegations, consider the danger of the situation at hand! But not only that, stop it from happening!Protect one another in each other’s absences! See the dark spiritual movements behind all such tantalizing insinuations and allegations. Hear the devil’s joy at gossip spoken and shudder in terror at what it portends. Then hear the Savior’s joy at gossip squashed and at the body of Christ moving to protect the people of God.
We protect one another when we lovingly call one another away from sin and the devastation it brings.
We also protect one another by pulling one another out of the mouth of the devil who is seeking to devour us. In James 5, James writes:
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Unfortunately, whenever Baptist preachers discuss these verses the conversation is oftentimes immediately reduced to a conversation about eternal security. What does it mean that “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death”? It is a fascinating statement, but, for our purposes, can we just stand in awe before these verses and acknowledge that it is vitally and critically important that we call one another away from the sins that destroy us, that we not leave one another in the devouring jaws of the devil?
However you interpret these words, it must be acknowledged that life is found in Jesus and death is found in the devil. Thus, to call wayward brothers and sisters back to Jesus is to call them back to life! It is enough, at this point, to assert only that.
Sin kills! Jesus saves! Do not leave your brothers and sisters in their sins! Go and get them! It is nothing to giggle at or Facebook about! The roaring lion who is the devil is seeking to devour your friend! Will you not seek to snatch him or her out of the jaws of death?
This is what it looks like to protect one another in the body of Christ! It means we care about one another and strive to encourage one another. It means not that we meddle with one another’s lives but that we pray for one another, call one another away from the brink when we see one another approaching it, and beseech the Lord God of heaven and earth to keep the devil at bay.
Why, then, do we not see more of this? I would allege that it is because we forget the spiritual war that is waging all around us. Brothers and sisters, this must not be! When the lost come into the church they should find an authentic family in which they are loved and protected. When they do not, disillusionment sets in. Francis Chan writes:
A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like. He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church.
After a few months, I found out the guy was no longer coming to the church. When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week-we were family.” That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be. It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church body.
May God forgive us when a gang exhibits more love, more protection, and more unity than the body of Jesus Christ, the church! May God forgive us when the bar down the street looks more like a true church in terms of the relationships inside than the church down the street does!
Church, let us love one another! Let us protect one another! Let us call one another back under the sheltering wing of Jesus! Only there are we truly safe from the lion who seeks to devour us.
“Quotation Marks”, Christianity Today (January 2008), p.17.
Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. Kindle Loc. 1069-74.