Simple truths often have the deepest impact on me.
Case in point: I was reading Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship by David Peterson, and some of his words from pages 197-198 on how the Pauline epistles explain worship hit me in a powerful way. It’s a lot more common to say that we encounter God in His Word and through prayer (because those are key ways we encounter Him), but Peterson’s words struck me how we can encounter Christ through His people as well. Peterson writes:
Paul actually expects Christ to be encountered as his people share with one another a whole range of verbal ministries in the congregational gathering. For example, as they ‘sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’, with gratitude in their hearts to God, they will fulfil the apostolic injunction, ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell among you richly’ (Col. 3:16; cf. Eph. 5:19–20). As the gospel or ‘the word of Christ’ is proclaimed and applied in the congregation, so Christ himself makes his character and presence known and impresses his will on his people. Clearly, any gospel-based ministry of encouragement or admonition will be a means by which Christ engages with his people. This will happen when the Scriptures are formally expounded and taught or when believers informally exhort one another to live out their obedience to the gospel. The Spirit, who unites believers in a common relationship with God through faith in Christ, gifts and inspires them to be the means by which he continues to confront them with his truth (1 Cor. 12:4–13).
While that truth is nothing new to me (or this blog), I need the reminder. We can’t separate our love for Christ with our love for His body. Because as we experience His Word in community and the building up that comes from practicing the one anothers, we encounter Christ.
Peterson goes on to explain how this is all thanks to the New Covenant:
One model for the Christian congregation is Israel gathered at Mt Sinai to receive the word of the Lord (Ex. 19–24), or assembled in Jerusalem to hear the book of the law read by Ezra and interpreted by the Levites (Ne. 8–9). Yet the profound difference in the New Testament view of the Lord’s assembly is that he comes to his people wherever they are gathered in his name and he encounters them through the ministry which he enables them to have to one another, as an outworking of the promises of the new covenant. We meet with God when we meet with one another.
These truths should cause us to reflect: How do we prioritize the assembly of believers? How do we seek to build others up by speaking God’s truth to them? What motivates our church attendance, simply receiving encouragement for ourselves (which is important!), or actively seeking to build others up by helping them encounter Christ?
Church is not a cafeteria where you go to satisfy your spiritual appetite and leave. Nor can a podcast sermon take the place of meeting with real people face-to-face. Treating church that way means we miss out on a deeper relationship of Christ by not using our gifts to build up others and others miss out on being built up by us. The whole church is stronger when every part is working together to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).