Elements of a Biblical Culture
What is biblical culture? What are the non-negotiables? I’ve identified several elements of a biblical culture: 1) truth, 2) love and 3) unity.
Without truth, there is no true fellowship. Christianity begins with the truth that we are sinners. This is our starting point. We can’t have the same level of fellowship with non-Christians as we can with other Christians because we don’t have the same starting point. There is a fundamental difference between Christians and non-Christians when it comes to our self-identity.
Christians, we don’t believe that truth is relative. If God is the Creator, then there is only one truth. Truth is exclusive and so when the Bible says, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we can say Amen to that. That’s me, I am a sinner.
The tricky part is that even while we were saved from sin, we still have a sinful nature. We become blind to our sins. So one key function of a church is to speak truth about sin.
How do we do it? We proclaim truth directly from the Word of God and the Holy Spirit convicts of sin. At times, the Word of God alone is not enough because sin is self-deceptive and we become blind to our own sins. When there is clear sin, like David’s adultery with Bathsheeba and his murder of Uriah to cover up, God may have to send a prophet into your life like a Nathan. There are times when we will have to play the role of Nathan to one another.
If someone is in blatant sin among us, it is our job as a church to speak truth into that brother or sister’s life. Because we are accountable before God, esp. the leaders, God is going to hold us accountable for the souls that He has entrusted to us. This raises the bar. I’m looking out for your soul and I need people to look out for mine.
Wielding the Sword of Truth vs. Speaking the Truth in Love
How should we speak truth to one another? What if every chance we got, we wielded the sword of truth and we stabbed one another with it. Or we came down on each other with the hammer of truth all the time. If we did that, we’d probably end up killing one another spiritually.
This is why Paul urges us in Eph 4:15 to speak the truth IN LOVE. Love is the vehicle of truth. Another way to put it, we need to speak the truth with the right spirit. If truth is spoken in an unloving way or with the wrong spirit, then we’re not ready to speak the truth. We have to wait until we can speak with the right spirit, with love. We can dispense and pronounce truth with a sword or a hammer or we can speak the truth in love. Truth can actually damage and kill and stumble rather than edify unless it is spoken with the right spirit. This leads to the second characteristic of a biblical culture – love.
The second characteristic of biblical culture is love.
What is love? How does the Bible define love?
1 Cor 13
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Speak the truth in love. Speak the truth with this kind of spirit. A spirit that is patient, kind, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, a spirit that keeps no record of wrongs.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
How will the world know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ? By our understanding of truth? By our Bible knowledge? By our ability to defend the faith rationally? By our discernment and ability to analyze another brother or sister’s sins. No. All men will know that you are my disciples, IF (and this is a big IF), if you love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another. As I have loved you. How did Jesus love? How did he model love for us such that we can extend that same love to one another?
Jesus defines love in John 15:13.
13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus demonstrated love, a love that has no equal, a love that cannot be expressed in any greater way, by laying down his life for you and for me on the cross.
Love is Dying
So, if we are to love one another the way Jesus loved us, this means that each person here is going to have to die. I wish I had better news for you. I wish it were easier. No one wants to die. Instead, we want to defend ourselves, we want to criticize, we want to accuse, but who wants to die? Not me, not you. That is why we need the Holy Spirit’s help. Regular self-death requires the Spirit’s help. This kind of humility and compassion is Spirit-generated. We have to be filled with the Spirit in order to genuinely love because love at its core requires death.
A church is a gathering of sinners. By definition, this means, there will be many people at every church that you just can’t stand. You don’t like them. We think we are loving people until God brings you into a church and there are a bunch of people that you don’t click with. People who rub you the wrong way. We are not called to like everyone, but you are called to love.
It is no surprise that the Christian calling is to deny oneself and take up a cross daily and follow Jesus. Love requires a cross, an instrument of death. We have to die to our emotions because our emotions tell us to avoid people we don’t like. We have to die to our reactions because the brother or sister next to you, if you get to know them well enough and you spend enough time with them, will eventually say and do things to you that will cause you to want to fight back or bite back. We need to die to our judgments. We can’t be selective in our love. In the world, you can be selective. If someone at work annoys you, you can avoid that person. Not in the church. What if Christ was selective? I only like those Jews and maybe the Koreans. They’re okay. I like insecure people, I’ll love them but I can’t stand arrogant people. No, Jesus loved sinners of all shapes and sizes. And he calls us to do the same.
1 Peter 4
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Love Covers Over a Multitude of Sins
Love covers over a multitude of sins. Love does not deny truth. Love does not bury its head in the sand and say, I don’t see your sins. Love looks at sin and many times covers over it. Isn’t that what Jesus does with our sins? He covers them. We were forgiven in Christ, even for sins that we didn’t even know we committed, or are committing at present. Sins that we are unaware of and therefore have not confessed. But in Christ, we are given a blanket of forgiveness. He covers over a multitude of our sins. If God came down on us every time we sinned, every time we had a sinful motive, or a hidden thought, or a careless word, do you think any of us would survive? If God always shined the spotlight of his truth on each and every sin conscious or unconscious as soon as the sin was committed, we would be destroyed. You and I wouldn’t be able to do anything. We would be on our faces, undone, paralyzed, unable to face another day. So in Christ, our sins are covered to a large extent so that we can breathe and we can have hope for a better day.
Biblical culture does not deny the importance of truth, but truth without love will stumble and possibly even destroy you and me. Speak the truth in love. Because love covers over a multitude of sins. When it comes to a church adopting a biblical culture, there is truth, there is love, and lastly, there is unity.
Third is unity.
Unity is very important. Earlier, I said, there shouldn’t be 2 levels within the church – the professional vs. the parishioners. The staff vs. the rest of the members. We are all servants. But we do have to account for one thing–maturity.
Need to Factor in Varying Degrees of Maturity
Maturity is more than the length of time that we have been walking with Christ. Maturity is not defined by the number of years we can call ourselves Christian. Or the number of years of church attendance. Maturity is a tricky thing. Some like Apostle Paul seem to mature overnight. And never miss a beat. Others like Peter stumble. They have their moments where they race ahead. And times when they sputter along or stop in the middle of the road.
Reasons Why We Don’t Mature
If you map out your spiritual life, you probably can identify periods when you really matured quickly in a short amount of time. You loved spending time with God and reading His Word and praying. And you were ready to serve others and put their needs ahead of yours. Or to share the gospel with a complete stranger. And there are also periods when you didn’t mature very much, or perhaps, you even took a few steps backward.
Why aren’t we racing along and maturing every single day? Because of sin. Because of trials that we didn’t respond well to. Unexpected suffering hits and we lose faith in God. Sins done unto us by others can stunt our growth. People we trusted ended up disappointing us. And because of these factors, we don’t mature as we ought.
Seasons of life can affect our maturity. Getting married – some get really derailed spiritually because of this. Or enduring a difficult marriage – that can really block maturity. Or getting a new job. Or working for a demanding boss. Or becoming a new parent and being sleep deprived. There are many reasons that we can point to that explain why our maturity fluctuates.
This means that at every church, you have those who are more mature and those who are less mature. How do we account for this disparity in maturity among our members?
Two Approaches to Unity
Unity is possible in one of two ways. One is the Navy Seals approach. Only the strong survive. We only want the best of the best. It’s my way or the highway. If you can’t cut it, go to the army. Some churches take the Navy Seals approach when it comes to unity. And at the end of the day, a church like this is left with a very uniform group of those who made the cut.
The other approach, which I think is the biblical approach, is to embrace weakness. We all take turns being strong and being weak. And when we are doing well spiritually and we are “strong,” how should we act toward those who are not doing well and who are weaker? We have to embrace and accept, right? Rom 14. As long as we are not compromising, we have to be careful not to stumble a weaker brother or sister. 1 Cor 8.
Biblical unity is impossible unless we are willing to accept weaker brothers and sisters.
Unity – Embracing Weakness and Diversity
Beyond that, biblical unity involves not only embracing weakness, but embracing diversity. God’s nature is trinitarian. 3 persons, 3 distinct persons, 3 persons with distinct differences and roles yet unified. And if church is a reflection of God, then, we, too, ought to reflect the same unity despite our differences. As we become more multi-ethnic, do you think that will challenge our unity? You bet. We’ll either try to be uniform and push one way of doing things on everyone, or we will embrace diversity while trying to maintain unity.
Local Church vs. Universal Church
In conclusion, no one church can capture the fullness of God. No one denomination can capture the fullness of God. Even if we have representatives from every tongue and people and language in the world assembled around the throne of God in heaven where there will be only ONE universal church, still, the body of Christ assembled before the throne would pale in comparison to the real thing, God himself. God doesn’t fit into our tiny boxes that we put him into. And whatever we feel like is THE RIGHT way of being a fellowship and doing church, we only got one thin slice of the pie. So we need to always be humble because even in our very best attempt to be a church that reflects who Christ is to the world, we will fall miserably short.
What sets us apart from the world? At LBC, I pray that we can be a place of truth and love where we can speak the truth in love and not kill each other with the sword of truth because we have learned to be slain by the truth ourselves. I pray that we would be unified while embracing weakness and diversity. Instead of the Navy Seals where only the strong survive, let’s be a military hospital where those who are weak and struggling and hurting can find a safe place to grow and mature.
I pray that we can be a place of genuine unity, not because we demand uniformity, but because we embrace the character of God, who is both diverse and at the same time unified in His Person.