The Church: Called to Embrace

“If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as a foreigner or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Do not profit or take interest from him, but fear your God and let your brother live among you. You are not to lend him your silver with interest or sell him your food for profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. (Leviticus 25:35-38 HCSB)

As the church, we are called to embrace those who are suffering in our midst. We are called to embrace those who do something wrong, or “wrong” (by “wrong” in quotes I mean something that we don’t personally agree with and our faith tradition doesn’t either but that Scripture says absolutely nothing for or against). The church is called to embrace people.

This is the same call that was made to the Jews through Isaiah. God said through him,

Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17 HCSB)

This call extends to us today as the church. We are called, as the church, to embrace and help those who are going through tough times. Jesus even commanded that we do so.

“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. (Matthew 18:15 HCSB)

You see, the first step in church discipline involves discussing with the person in private what you believe that he has done wrong. Jesus doesn’t say, though, that after this you remove him from your midst. On the contrary, He says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother”. So, when administering church discipline, the first step involves a loving embrace of the person. Yes, we correct them or reveal to them what we believe their fault to be, but we keep them among us and embrace them as a brother.

This doesn’t seem to be how it is done in most churches. Churches either rebuke nobody or they automatically kick them out at the first mistake that they make. This is not the kind of love that we are commanded to have as the body of Christ. For the body to function properly, we need every single part. If we keep cutting limbs off at the first sign of infection, we won’t have too much to go on in a very short time.

This embracing of people who make mistakes extends beyond just the members of our congregations, but it also includes the leaders of our congregations as well. If we keep removing our leaders at the first thing they do that we deem a mistake then we won’t have anyone to lead us.

In fact, I would hazard to say that the people we need to be most forgiving of are our leaders. Our leaders live a tough life. Leading a church and a ministry is not an easy task.

Rob Bell, in Velvet Elvis, is talking about a point in his ministry when he was just completely overwhelmed. He says,

“I was moments away from leaving the whole thing.

I just couldn’t do it anymore.

People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore.

I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a Christian anymore.

What do you do when you can hear the room filling up with thousands of people who are expecting you to give them words from God, and you don’t even know if it is true anymore?

I was exhausted.

I was burned out.

I was full of doubt.

I was done.

I had nothing more to say. ( Rob Bell. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith. 2005. Zondervan. Pages 103-104)

Pastors don’t have it easy at all. Leaders don’t have it easy at all and yet we treat them as if they are to live a perfect life and any mistake (or even a perceived mistake) they make automatically disqualifies them from the ministry.

Which brings up a good question: Why are we so quick to disqualify people from the ministry?

As a church, we are called to embrace those who make mistakes or who are less fortunate. that is what the text I quoted above says. Here it is again.

“If your brother becomes destitute and cannot sustain himself among you, you are to support him as a foreigner or temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Do not profit or take interest from him, but fear your God and let your brother live among you. You are not to lend him your silver with interest or sell him your food for profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God. (Leviticus 25:35-38 HCSB)

The text here doesn’t specify any circumstances that may have made the brother destitute. It doesn’t qualify who we help and who we don’t help. All it says is. “If your brother becomes destitute…”.

This text is so rich in application for us in this day and age. Things happen and people end up in trouble. The circumstances that bring them to a place where they need our help don’t give us the right to turn them away and send them off somewhere else.

We are Scripturally mandated to take them in. To let them live among us. To support them. Regardless of the circumstances.

And we should do the same to our leaders. Just because someone makes a mistake (even a perceived one) doesn’t mean that they are no longer capable of leading us. Look at King David. He had a lot of issues and yet God called him a man after His own heart. David led the people despite his shortcomings. And don’t we all have shortcomings? Haven’t we all fallen short?

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 HCSB)

As a church, let us be better about embracing people in need rather than sending them away because we don’t want to deal with the issues. Our reputation as the body of Christ is not on the line. The world already hates us. That just comes with the territory. Let people say what they will. It is our responsibility to follow the commands of God, no matter what that may cost us here.

Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life? What can a man give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38 HCSB)

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