The Glory, Importance, and Victory of Other People

While I was writing last week’s post, I noticed I’d come back yet again to the idea of other people’s importance to our lives with God. I feel like I’ve been writing about that a lot lately, starting with “The Glorious Weights We Carry” over a month ago, then in “Building People Up in Christ,” “The Reason For Relationship,” and most recently “The Crown of Victory.”

It’s clear that God cares deeply for people. We all benefit from His love immensely as recipients of grace, mercy, salvation, and ongoing relationship. Yet as human beings, we have a tendency to think about how much God cares for me and how His love changes my life. We think less often about what His care for all people means for how we should interact with others. But we’re supposed to become like God, and that means learning to see other people the way He does.

As I’ve studied the Bible over the past month, it struck me that the glory we anticipated is connected to other people. When Jesus builds us up, He expects us to respond by building others up. The type of relational oneness that Jesus and the Father want with us is the same type of oneness we should want to have with others in God’s family. Even the crown of victory we’re promised after faithfully completing our mortal lives is linked with other people who are also living lives of faith. Our individual lives with God are inescapably contextualized by our relationships within His church.

Carrying Others’ Glory

If we’re going to follow Jesus’s example, then we need to spend a lot of time focused on helping other people toward a good outcome. Paul says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, NET). The word translated “burdens” here is baros (βάρος), the same Greek word that’s translated “weight” in this verse: “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17, NET). I suspect C.S. Lewis was connecting these two scriptures when he spoke of our neighbor’s glory in a sermon from 1941.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 8

I often think about this sermon, and this passage in particular. We know that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and as a result “whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15; John 3:16). God deeply desires for all people to know the truth, repent, follow Him, and receive salvation (1 Tim. 3:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If we want to be like God, then we should deeply desire that as well. We need to remember that the people all around us have the same glorious potential that God grants to us.

So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.

Galatians 6:9-10, NET

We’re supposed to be doing good to other people. God never intended for there to be quarreling, backbiting, pettiness, and rivalries among His people. We’re supposed to care so much about other people, especially those in “the family of faith,” that we’ll carry their burdens and shoulder the weight of their glory along with our own.

Image of people in a circle holding hands overlaid with text from Colossians 3:12-14, NET version:   “Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, and perseverance; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do. Above all these things, walk in love, which is the bond of perfection.”
Image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock

Build Others Up First

In 1 Corinthians, Paul counsels his readers to “flee from idolatry” in the context of whether or not they should eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul answers that specific question like this: you’re free to eat the meat as long as you’re not participating in idol worship and thereby having dinner with demons (1 Cor. 8:1-13; 10:14-33). But Paul also points out there’s a much deeper issue here. The question is about an individual choice, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as the question of how the choice to eat this meat affects other people.

With regard to food sacrificed to idols, we know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. … With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.”  …

But this knowledge is not shared by all. … be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if someone weak sees you who possess knowledge dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 

1 Corinthians 8:1-2, 4, 7, 9-12, NET

Paul shifts the conversation. The most important thing here isn’t whether you have the freedom to eat the meat sold in the market place without asking about its backstory. The thing you need to worry about it how your choice affects other people in the family of faith.

“Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person.  … So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in all things. I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-33, NET

I’m a Star Trek fan, so this makes me think of Spock’s statement that “The good of the many outweighs the good of the one.” That’s the attitude Paul is describing here. What does it matter whether you get to eat meat in the grand scheme of other people’s salvation? If you decide to do something because it’s technically allowed, even though you know it’s going to hurt someone else who might be “weaker” in the faith, then you’re sinning against Jesus Christ Himself. When we love as God loves, we’ll focus on the things that build other’s up before we focus on our own desires. In fact, just a little later in this same letter, Paul says, “Let all things be done to build each other up ” (1 Cor. 14:26, WEB). We need to make doing good to others the main goal of our actions and interactions, particularly in the church.

Copying Christ’s Attitude

Last week when we were studying the crowns of victory that God promises us for living faithfully, we looked at two verses where Paul describes other people as our glory, joy, and crown (Phil. 4:1; 1 Thes. 2:19-20). This description emphasizes that there’s no competition among believers. Even though our Christian lives are described like an athletic game that we need to strive to win, we’re not competing against other believers but alongside them.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had

Philippians 2:1-5, NET
Image of two people holding hands with the blog's title text and the words "If everything goes according to plan, we'll be spending eternity with other people in God’s family of faith. We can't wait until then to care about them, though. We need to be loving, encouraging, prioritizing, and building each other up now."
Image by Jantanee from Lightstock

Paul goes on to describe Jesus’s attitude as humble, service-oriented, sacrificial, and obedient (Phil. 2:6-11). Just like He and His servants admonish us to do, Jesus built other people up. He put their needs first, whether that meant correcting them sternly or showing unexpectedly generous mercy (Matt 16:22-23; Luke 7:36-48). He even died for all of us. And He expects those who follow Him to be similarly humble, forgiving, service-oriented, and sacrificial (Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:12-13; 1 John 3:16).

He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:10-11, NET

Notice that while Paul charges his readers to encourage and build each other up, he also points out they’re already doing this. We might already be doing this as well, but a reminder is always good to help us continue doing the right thing. Supporting others in God’s family is important enough that even if we’re already doing it, we need reminders of it’s importance.

If we’ve stopped encouraging and building each other up–for example, started avoiding some people at church because we don’t like them–then we can take Paul’s words here as a nudge to get back on track. There will be people in God’s family and our local church groups we don’t get along with very well. There may even be some that, in extreme cases, we need to stop associating with for our mental or spiritual health (Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thes. 3:6-14). However, that’s the exception rather than the rule. God’s intention and command is for us to live in peace with others in the church and invest in good relationships with them.

 Let’s consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25, WEB

Nearly two thousand years ago, the apostle John wrote, “Little children, these are the end times” (1 John 2:18, WEB). That was true then, and we’re even closer now. This makes the admonition in Hebrews to assemble together and encourage each other as the Day of the Lord approaches even more urgent. (Of course, this includes the caveat, “if it’s possible to assemble;” health problems, location, and persecution can make assembly in person very difficult or impossible for some of us.)

If we can get together with other believers and participate in a church group, though, we should. We simply don’t have time to waste bickering, competing, or holding petty things against each other. We need to forgive, to encourage, to show love when we speak truth, and build each other up. And we ought to enjoy spending time together. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be spending eternity with these people. That thought should make us excited–it’s what Jesus and the Father want, and it’s what we should want as well.


Featured image by Ben White from Lightstock

Why Millennials Might Feel Alone In Their Churches

I had a strange moment at church several weeks ago. As I was sitting at a table fellowshipping after services and looked around, it hit me that I was the only person in my 30s in the whole room. That day, there wasn’t anyone there in their 40s, either. The 50-and-older and younger-than-30 age groups are well represented in my congregation, but there’s a whole generation that’s missing.

Technically, I suppose we do have some younger millennials and older Gen Xers, so it’s more like two halves of two generations. But there’s a whole two decades’ worth of people that’s represented by just a few people. I can find people my age and a little older if I travel to other congregations across the country, but it still seems like a pretty small number. And from what I’ve heard talking with people in other church groups and denominations, low numbers of Millennials and Gen X in Christian churches is fairly common. If you’re a Millennial who feels alone in your church, there’s a good chance it’s (at least in part) because you’re the only person there in your age-range.

Of course, I already knew that I’m the only person in my congregation in my 30s before that moment a few weeks ago. And I don’t really feel “alone” because I have great relationships with other people in the congregation who are younger than me or who are my parents’ age. But this time, I started to dwell on the idea of being the only one here since I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful that weekend (as I shared a couple weeks ago, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression again). I started worrying about whether or not my church group would vanish some day, decades from now, as the older people grew older and younger people moved away. I wondered if the younger people who are here would be ready and able (and if there’s enough of us) to step-in and take over service roles in the church in the years going forward as the people in their 50s, 60s, and older need or want to cut-back on their responsibilities. I started feeling sorry for myself, thinking about how this is one of the reasons I’m still single.

I journaled about these thoughts and mentioned them to my counselor, who reminded me this isn’t an uncommon thing to see when looking at Christian groups today. As I started writing this blog post, I did a little more digging into the numbers of Millennials and Generation X in churches. I found that a Pew research study in 2014 reported the number of people who say that religion is important to their life drops as the generations get younger. The younger the generation, the less likely they are to identify as Christian, believe in God, or place a high priority on any religion (click here for more info).

Image from PewForum.org

A more recent worldview survey released in 2021 by Arizona Christian University reported that “Millennials Seek a Nation Without God, Bible and Churches” (click here to read). Though 57% of Millennials (which this survey defines as those born between 1985 and 2002) identify as Christians, the report also noted that only 16% “can be classified as born-again Christians based on their beliefs about personal salvation.” This report also reminds readers that what’s going on with Millennials is continuing a trend away from belief in the Bible and God that began gaining ground with Gen X. It’s definitely a trend I’ve noticed among my Millennial peers and Generation Z as I interact with them at university.

My counselor is the one who suggested I blog about all this rather than keeping it just in my journal. It’s a relatable topic, since there are so many Christians in their 40s, 30s, and younger who feel like I did when they look around their churches. There just aren’t that many of us here. I’m not sure what the right word for this feeling is. “Lonely” or “alone” doesn’t seem to fit because we can still have great relationships with people older than and younger than us. No one in a healthy church ever needs to be alone since the church can provide a community and support system (though of course we can still feel lonely even when surrounded by people we genuinely like). “Underrepresented” is probably closer to what Millennials in the church face, but it seems a little odd to use in this context; as if Churches should recruit based on age rather than welcoming all faithful believers who are called by God.

As I’ve been working through my most recent struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve been asking questions about my thoughts. Questions like “Is this helpful or useful?” and “Is this encouraging?” Musing on how lonely or underrepresented I could feel isn’t either of those things. But is there something helpful or useful that could come from thinking about the dwindling number of faithful people as we look at more recent generations? Perhaps there is.

I think it’s useful to acknowledge that people from certain age groups are less common in the churches for a few reasons. Firstly, it helps those of us in that age group know why we feel like there aren’t very many of us in the churches, and lets us know we’re not alone in that feeling. Knowing which generations seem less interested in and committed to faith also gives us a chance as churches to examine ourselves. The diminishing numbers of younger people is likely a sign of the increasing secularity of the world as we draw closer to the time of Jesus’s return. Even with that being the case, we should still see if there’s anything we ought to change and improve in order to be more faithful and therefore a better environment for new people (of all ages) whom God is calling. To give a few possible examples, we might guard more closely against hypocrisy, embrace enthusiastic worship services, preach a stronger message of personal responsibility, or show how meaningful a life of faith can be.

Ultimately, we can’t force people into churches to fill some kind of quota we set up in our minds. God the Father is the one who calls people, though we do get to participate in sharing the gospel. Prayer is the best thing we can do in response to worries, questions, or loneliness related to the decreasing interest in faith among young people or our feelings of being alone in our churches. We can pray that each of us, as individuals and as parts of church communities, be drawn into closer and more meaningful relationships with each other and God. We can pray for the gospel to reach more young people and touch their hearts. And if we are feeling lonely, we need to be praying about that as well. One of David’s psalms says, “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6, WEB), and He can do that for each of us.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Are there any generations that seem to be “missing” from your church group? Or maybe you’re part of a group that does have a lot of people in their 40s, 30s, and younger and you’d like to share what that’s like. Let’s discuss in the comments!

Featured image by Anggie from Lightstock

Staying Loyal to Our Core Identity as Children of God, and Using It to Create Unity

Who and what are you?

We can all answer this question a variety of different ways. Our identities are multifaceted things — human, female, Christian, daughter, American, writer, friend, white, Midwestern (to give you some of mine). Some are chosen by us, some are given by God, nature, or other people. The things we identify with, wherever those identities come from, shape who are are.

Sometimes our identities might be in conflict with each other, or with those of other people. We need to be able to handle and resolve those conflicts. On the small scale, it might be something like “student” vs. “friend” (such as finding a balance between needing time to study and finding time to maintain friendships). On a larger scale, it might be something like “national” vs. “religious” (such as wanting to uphold your country’s ideals, but finding some of them at odds with your faith, and needing to choose between them). Or it could be an interpersonal situation where you find yourself interacting with people who have different political affiliations, ethnicities, faiths, and priorities than you do.

How we resolve these inner and outer conflicts says something about who we are and what we value. As Christians, we have an identity that is meant to be first in our priorities and underlie every other part of our lives. But we don’t always live as if this is truly the case. Sometimes we choose to put other beliefs and identities first, and if we do that too often it can damage our relationship with our primary identity as children of God.

Staying Loyal to Our Core Identity as Children of God, and Using It to Create Unity | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Claudine Chaussé via Lightstock

The Problem of Conflicting Identities

I recently listened to a podcast episode titled “A First Step Toward Racial Reconciliation,” which was an interview with Mark Vroegop. His book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens A Door For Racial Reconciliation is coming out next month. In this interview, he talks about how the church should be the best place to resolve racial differences because “the gospel creates an identity that gets underneath all other identities.” Read more

The Christian Community and Our Godly Identity

In last week’s post, I talked about the new identities God gives us when we enter a relationship with Him. For those of us with a Western cultural mindset, “identity” is typically connected with “individualism” — who you are that makes you unique from everyone else. But the Bible was written by people with an Eastern cultural mindset, where identity is a more collective concept that involves how you fit in to a group or family.

When we find our identity in God, it is a collective as well as an individual thing. The Christian life isn’t meant to be an isolated one. We’re part of a community, a family. If we neglect to recognize that, then we’re missing out on a huge part of our identity as believers. And if we purposefully cut ourselves off from the community, we reject an incredible blessing.

Being in Christ Is Being in Community

I recently read a fascinating book called Participating In Christ by Michael J. Gorman. One of the key points he makes is that “to be in Christ is to be in community” (chapter 10). We miss this in English far more easily than we could if we read it in Greek.

“This life in Christ is lived not in isolation but only in community. (We must keep in mind that most of the words for ‘you’ in Paul’s letters are plural pronouns, and most often the imperatives are given in the second- [or third-] person plural form.) — (Gorman, Participating In Christ, Chapter 1)

“You (plural) are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). “By grace you (plural) are saved” (Eph. 2:5). We often read these verses, and many others like them, as a deeply individual thing but they’re addressed to a community. Our individual relationships with God are vital. But so is our communal relationship with God and His people. Read more

How Do I Convince People They’re Wrong and God Is Right?

The world seems like it’s going crazy. Looking around at what’s going on brings to mind Bible verses like “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” and “there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Jud. 17:6; Ps. 36:1). Not only do people reject God, but they reject the entire idea of absolute morality as well, opting for a subjective, situational version that can change moment-to-moment and person-to-person.

In the midst of this, many Christians want to fight for and defend the truth of our faith. We want to show the world they’re wrong and prove that God is right. We think that to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered,” we need to offer logical, scientifically supported, convincing arguments to counter the lies running rampant in our culture.

But I don’t think we’re going to convince many people that God’s word is the truth (rather than just one of many truths) by arguing with them. There’s definitely a place for apologetics, and people with the knowledge and expertise to enter debates and stand up for truth are invaluable. In general, though, I question whether telling people how wrong they are and what they need to change is a good first step for introducing them to the faith.

If we start out by lecturing people about how much God hates their sin or how wrong they are about ideas they hold dear, why would they react any way other than defensively? And if they don’t acknowledge God as real yet, why would we expect them to care what we say He wants them to do?

Keeping Your Audience In Mind

God’s truth doesn’t change with the times. But those who are wise keep their audiences in mind when they speak the truth. When Paul spoke to Jews in Antioch, he knew his already religious audience could best be reached by using scriptures to prove Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah (Acts 13:14-41). When he preached to people in Athens without any Biblical background, however, he started by talking about who God is and why we should care. He even quoted one of their own philosophers as part of his argument (Acts 17:18-31). Tailoring the message to fit his audience was a deliberate, conscious choice that Paul made. Read more

Fighting For Truth Within God’s House

Dear friends, although I was making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I considered it a necessity to write to you to encourage you to contend for the faith delivered once and for all to the saints. (Jude 1:3, LEB)

Way back in the first century, Jude had planned to write fellow believers concerning their common salvation. However, he had to change the topic because “certain men have slipped in stealthily” (v. 4) to spread destructive heresies.

When we read an instruction to “contend for the faith,” we typically think of preaching to the world and fighting for God’s truth in an ungodly society. But Jude is talking about the need to do this inside the church. And if they were dealing with problems like this back in the first century, you can be sure we’ll be facing them today as well.

A List of Wickedness

Jude said that we need to fight for the faith even inside the church because of ungodly people who sneaked in. As the letter unfolds, he explains in detail what sort of things these people were doing. It’s a long list, but I think it’s an important one to look at in detail. Read more