By Matthew Castro
How do Christians stand out in the world? Paul wrote in Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Christians are diamonds of light in a dark and crooked world. When Christians live lives worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27), they are lights of purity and love in their homes, workplaces, and the market. However, Paul did not just want them to sparkle as individuals, but he wanted them to shine through their lives together. This is how Christians stand out in the world.
The truth of the gospel must be empirically proven rather than rationally argued. Truth must be experienced rather than simply articulated. With the advent of postmodernism, the world cries out for something authentic and real to believe. Today beliefs are developed socially. People witness truth that is embodied in a location for them to see and hear. Therefore, the world needs a church that believes the truth so absolutely it actually lives it out. The local church becomes the context by which people witness the gospel truth rather than simply hearing the truth. A group of believers living lives worthy of the gospel shine as lights that the world can behold the power of the gospel.
Genuine community that is expressed in a local church is created when Christians live out the model of submission to one another expressed by Christ. Paul encouraged the church in Philippi in chapter 2 to be united through their “participation in the Spirit,” “being of the same mid,” and “the same love,” and “being in full accord and one mind.” Paul then stated, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). Christians are called to submit themselves to one another. When we submit to one another’s good, we are living a life worthy of the gospel.
Paul then presented a model of submission in Christ Jesus. Christ laid down his life by submitting to the will of his Father, and humbled himself to the put of death for our salvation. The command to live a life worthy of the gospel is a command to follow in Christ’s example of humility and submission to the needs of others. When Christians live out this command in the local church, genuine community is expressed, which draws people to the gospel.
The world is desperate for genuine community. The church is a solution to a an age yearning for community. Rodney Stark in his book on the history of Christianity stated many in the early church were most likely converted to the faith through community not mass evangelism. He wrote, “Moreover, the claim that mass conversions to Christianity took place as crowds spontaneously responded to evangelists assumes that doctrinal appeal lies at the heart of conversion process–that people hear the message, find it attractive, and embrace the faith. But modern social science relegates doctrinal appeal to a very secondary role, claiming that most people do not really become very attached to the doctrines of their new faith until after their conversions.” Community was at the heart of the church’s growth in the Roman Empire. The genuine community within the church exposes people to the love of Christ.
Jesus said, “By this everyone who will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” People are exposed to the love of Christ, when they learn and experience Christian love in the church. As Christians come together in the local church and are united in our love for Christ and one another, they shine as lights in the world, which cause them to acknowledge the beauty of the gospel.
This means being a member of the local church has eternal ramifications, because the local church is the visible gospel. Your friends, co-workers, and neighbors most likely will not get saved through a gospel pamphlet or card, Rather, they will come to the gospel by their interaction with the people of God living out the gospel absolutely. This is their proof of the supernatural presence of God in the world.
Christians cannot sit on the sidelines, and not be united to other believers in the church through membership. A lost world must witness our devotion and submission to one another, so that they may confirm the truth and power of the gospel.
Here are 8 Ways that Christians can submit to the local church.
Publicly: Christians should join a church by committing to the local body of believers where they will regularly receive the Lord’s Supper. Christians should publicly identity with a church.
Physically: Christians should submit physically by gathering regularly with the church.
Socially: Christians should submit socially to the local church by making friends there. The local church community should be a place where Christians form adn shape one another for good through all the dynamics of friendship.
Affectionately: Christians should submit their affections to one another. Rejoice with our brothers and sisters in the church and mourn with our brothers and sisters in the church.
Financially: Christians should submit themselves to their local church financially. “Share will the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).
Vocationally: Christians should submit their vocations to their churches. This means recognizing that the lives of our fellow members will stretch on for eternity, while our jobs will not.
Ethically: Christians should submit themselves to their local churches ethically. Christians should look to the church for ethical instruction, counsel, accountability, and discipline in matters that are addressed by God’s Word The local church should be the primary place where we seek to help other believers fight against their sin and where we, in turn, should open ourselves up to receive the same help.
Spiritually: Christians should submit themselves to their local church spiritually. They should exercise their spiritual gifts in the church. They should build each other in God’s Word in the church (Jude 20-21). They should also intercede for one another in prayer.
The call to submitting to the local church is a call to love someone ugly. Christ was sent into the world to save a harlot, a rebellious people. He then saved her, and then is transforming her into a beautiful bride. The church is full of sinners. All Christians are called to love this ugly harlot, which is the church. Their devotion and submission to one another is used by God to transform her into something beautiful and pure. He is transforming us and the community into a beautiful starry night sky.