There is a well-known saying that I often use for people who are Church hunting. “If you find the perfect Church, don’t go there because you’ll ruin it.” For people who haven’t heard this statement before, they will give me a look of shock. For people who have, they realize that the statement really means that there is no such thing as a perfect church. If there was such a thing as a perfect church, we could only add to it by bringing imperfection.
If you are brave enough to read this blog after reading the title, it probably means that you are willing to acknowledge that you are one of the people who make your Church imperfect. We all are. Hopefully Christians gather together to help strengthen each other as we seek to honor Christ and become more like him. But….in this world, none of us have arrived. Too often it is possible in our fleshly struggles to allow our desire for self to have its effect among our brothers and sisters. A great description of the effect of selfishness on the Church is found in Paul’s first letter to Corinth.
Corinth presented a great many problems. I always find it fascinating that Paul introduces this letter by talking about this Church as those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and appealing to them as beloved brethren. Immediately after Paul’s introduction, he seems to be answering all sorts of questions about all sorts of selfishly motivated sins happening in the life of this church.
In chapters 1 -3, Paul appeals to them to stop following their favorite personality. It is not about your preferred teacher, it’s about Christ. You don’t judge what is wise according to your own human philosophy, but true wisdom is found in the gospel. In chapter 4 Paul has to remind Corinth of what it means to be a faithful servant. In chapter 5 they seem to allow self-rule when it comes to sexual pursuits. In chapter 6 they are greedy for their own rights and taking each other to court. In chapters 11-14 the selfishness of the Corinthian church was impacting their time of gathering. Some were selfishly hoarding food in the meal that they were supposed to be having together to remember Christ’s sacrifice. It also seems that some were seeking to use gifts to show themselves as having greater standing with God through having a more powerful manifestation in giftedness. They were being selfish with the use of tongues to the degree that their ability to speak another language was flaunted in a way that it had no concern for the edification of others.
When we bring selfishness to a Church, we bring an attitude of being first and seek to be recognized as superior or more deserving than others. This is completely opposite to who Christ has called us to be. Jesus is the great Servant who has called us to serve and his example is the cross. In chapters 11-14 Paul consistently repeats that the purpose of meeting together. It is so we might serve each other in building each other up. Often our selfishness takes us in the direction that we desire to be built up by others and assess our Church by what we get.
In our time, we might look at a Church like Corinth and be tempted to say that we are glad that we are not like them. Well, we might not have a letter from an Apostle outlining every major aspect of selfishness in our congregation, but I would suggest that we could name a lot of selfish motivations that are hurting the Church even when they are not about sexual immorality, drunkenness, or taking each other to court.
seek recognition for yourself?
let insufficient reasons stop you from turning up to edify your brothers and sisters in Christ?
leave your Church family because of secondary issues?
come to Church to be served rather than to serve?
complain when you don’t think the Church is meeting your standard?
judge Churches on the basis of what you get rather than what you give?
We could keep building a big list here, but I think you get the point. Really, we are all tempted to point our finger at Corinth. In God’s eyes, selfishness is selfishness, and selfishness hurts the Church. Let’s all consider ways in which we are selfish to examine how we might be who God has really called us to be as a Church – vital members of a vibrantly functioning body!