Relationships: Worth the Mess

Not much gets in the way of my Thursday night routine. For over a year now, I rush home from work, choose between getting in a quick workout or a few minutes on the couch, and head out the door to get to my small group on time. I've grown to look forward to this night of the week almost more than any other.

But it took awhile.

Being a Christian is less about me and more about we.

My small group consists of about sixteen men and women of various ages and stages—and anyone who walked through that door for the first time would figure out that we might not be close friends naturally. Some of us probably wouldn't even gravitate toward one another. We each have our different quirks, preferences, and opinions about a host of things.

About the same time I joined—God placed me in!— my small group, I began asking Him to teach me how to be part of a family. I practically grew up as an only child and, together with my natural tendencies, have noticed different sinful patterns take root in my heart that might have been stifled otherwise.

  • I can be condescending toward those I don't understand or who I think aren't as smart as I am.
  • I can be selfish and jealous when others are being celebrated.
  • I can be arrogant and stand-offish when I feel threatened or vulnerable.

And the list could go on. Add to that the fact that I'm often alone and can go hours without using my vocal chords, and you have a recipe for selective, unhealthy, or non-existent fellowship.

However, God's Word makes it clear that we were made for relationships. We see it in Eden when God declared that it wasn't good for man be alone (Gen. 2:18). Fellowship—here, in the context of marriage between one man and one woman—was created to display God's glory in a way that no man or woman could radiate on their own.

We also see it in the Trinity. God declared in the beginning, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen. 1:26), hinting at the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Gospels show it in action by telling us that Jesus often went off to desolate places to pray to His Father (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Furthermore, Jesus' example reflects the relationship that we were primarily created for—knowing God (John 17:3).

In our fallen culture of individualism, convenience, prejudice, self-autonomy, and dysfunctional relationships, the gospel speaks a powerful world.

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph. 2:13-16).

When we trusted Jesus, we were brought near to God and to each other. We have been placed within the diverse Body of Christ and are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22) in order to make the manifold wisdom of God known in the spiritual realm (Eph. 3:10).

So being a Christian is less about me and more about we (Acts 2:42-47).

It'd be much easier to spend time with people just like me or withdraw altogether, but I would miss so much of God in the process.

From the impulsive "baby" believer to the cranky "mature" believer, to the battles over pews vs. auditorium chairs, God is moving this ragamuffin group called the Church toward a day when we will be perfect—to His praise. We will have deep, lasting, and satisfying fellowship. No more misunderstandings, tension, selfish ambition, goodbyes, loneliness, or disorder.

Until then, we trust Christ to refine all of our sin and chaos.

I'll be the first to admit it'd be much easier to spend time with people just like me or withdraw altogether, but I would miss so much of God in the process! As one book's title so appropriately says, relationships are a mess—but they're worth making.

My sweet, diverse small group is a taste of heaven that I almost missed out on. They bring so much joy to my heart and have given me glimpses and tastes of God's glory that I could never know during "me" time. More importantly, they make me long for that day when I'll fellowship with my God and His people without corruption, without sin, and without end.

Has this been your experience with your church? Are you disillusioned with the Body of Christ because of differences? Are you willing to take God at His Word and keep investing in this display of His wisdom?

About the Author

Lindsay Swartz

Lindsay Swartz

Lindsay Swartz serves at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) as the managing editor of content. She completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently makes her home in Nashville, Tennessee, where she loves … read more …

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