A second way to praise the church without being boastful is to celebrate the sanctifying power of our fellowship in Christ. In the early church a relationship did not have to be perfect to be important. If ever there was a challenging relationship it was that between the Apostle Paul and the Christians at Corinth. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul confronted several serious sins in the strongest possible terms, but in his introductory comments he still wrote, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Our devotion to each other, in spite of our weaknesses, is not intended to diminish the severity of sin. Fellowship is more than tolerance. It is a bond of grace that frees us to disagree and hold each other accountable.
It is difficult for some people to understand this kind of relational dynamic. They believe having expectations of others is inconsistent with the unconditional love Jesus is thought to have shown the world. However, it is important to realize we don’t have to put conditions on our love to have expectations of the ones we love. Good parents love their children regardless of their behavior, but they wouldn’t dream of letting them grow up without an education or the kind of self-discipline necessary to become productive citizens. In the same way Christian fellowship is not intended to be a fantasy that ignores our imperfections, but rather a commitment that drives us to address them. With Paul we say, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col 1:28).
A church where flawed people grow because they aren’t allowed to stay the way they are is reason for celebration. The testimonies of people who have found grace, and discovered the joy of the sanctification process are worth hearing and sharing. This is one of the reasons I love the Bride of Christ and smile when I talk about her with my church family. Where else can people be simultaneously convicted of sin and consumed by hope?