By: Jenni Walker
“The moment I unite to God through Jesus Christ…I am absolutely accepted…if you are that affirmed deep down in your soul, if you know you are loved like that, then you can go out into the church, you will not look around and say, ‘Who can I hang out with to make me feel good about myself.’ You will look around and think instead, ‘Who just needs somebody to hang out with them?’ You go out there not looking to be affirmed but to be affirming.” (Timothy Keller)
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
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No matter how young or old we are, we have all had those moments throughout our lifetimes: Not getting asked to the winter formal in high school…being passed over for kickball on the playground…not having anyone to sit with at lunch…feeling like a sibling is a parent’s favorite…scanning a new environment for a friendly or familiar face…not being asked to sit with a group of women at a meeting…laughing along with some friends who are sharing a joke but not feeling a sense of connection…not receiving an invitation to a friend’s dinner party…moving to a new neighborhood…
The list of possible scenarios where we feel awkward, slightly hurt, or disconnected from others is endless. Based on our various experiences, upbringings, and personalities, those scenarios and our responses to them will differ. Some we can get over quickly; still others stay with us for a long time. But we all have had them. And we all remember them.
Accepted and Affirmed
Even when we are anchored as children who are loved by our Heavenly Father and have received adoption into the family of God by the work of Christ Jesus (John 3:16, Ephesians 1:5), we still have to wrestle with this need and desire to belong, to be wanted, to be affirmed. How do we navigate our time here on this earth where there is always the possibility of pain, rejection, and broken relationships? Timothy Keller puts it well explaining, “The moment I unite to God through Jesus Christ…I am absolutely accepted…if you are that affirmed deep down in your soul, if you know you are loved like that, then you can go out into the church, you will not look around and say, ‘Who can I hang out with to make me feel good about myself.’ You will look around and think instead, ‘Who just needs somebody to hang out with them?’ You go out there not looking to be affirmed but to be affirming.” (From The Gospel, the Church, and the World sermon.)
Wholehearted women, we need to take our eyes off of ourselves! As daughters of the King who belong to Him and in His family, we do not need to live for the approval of others. Rather, we can live as courageous women who live for our Lord’s purposes and who are empowered by our identity in Christ. And now we can help others to belong, too!
It is interesting to note that both women who undermine themselves with words and those who criticize others have a common root of these behaviors: a fear of what others think of them. Proverbs 29:25 tells us, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” Combatting the need for approval from others starts with Christ! And as Timothy Keller put it, when you have settled in your heart that you belong to the Lord and are a part of His church body, you will stop approaching relationships from a self-oriented perspective, looking for your interactions with others to make you “feel good” about yourself. Rather, you will have a paradigm shift as you start “not looking to be affirmed but to be affirming” (Timothy Keller).
We cannot say that we belong to God, that we are a part of His body, and not be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. These truths must translate into how we treat others in our own personal lives! Pastor and author Chris Hodges explains it well when he writes that God “promised that we would know Him as our Lord and be part of His family. We belong. We’re part of a community that knows and loves the Lord and wants to serve Him. We’re people making a difference just as our Creator designed us to do. In light of our awareness of our true identity as sons and daughters of the King, we find ourselves compelled to praise Him, worship Him, and serve Him so that others may be set free as well.” (From Four Cups, p. 27) When we grow in understanding of what it means to belong to the Lord and to be a part of His family, we will begin to develop hearts of compassion that are not only free from the “fear of man” described in Proverbs 29:25, but that desire to help others experience that freedom and belonging, too!
Let’s be wholehearted women who have a friendly attitude that takes notice of others with a smile of acknowledgement or a helping hand, being full of hospitality, service-oriented, and demonstrating to others the great love of the Father that we have also received (Galatians 6:10; Romans 12:13). Those who are not saved are not yet in the family of God. But we can treat them as men and women made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and we can be demonstrators of the lavish love of God (1 John 3:1). They need their hearts led to repentance and to see their need for a Savior, just as each one of us has experienced through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians, we need to remember that we are not just good people, but are partakers of all that has been offered to us through Christ! Living this authentically in the body of Christ and taking that kind of love to others can be used by the Holy Spirit to convict and reach the dark, needy, numbed, and rejected areas of people’s hearts.
When we relish being part of the family of God, we are not being exclusive or telling others they do not belong. Rather, we are putting the goodness of God on display in a way that says, “Welcome, you too can belong!” Timothy Keller puts it well in The Reason for God, explaining “[These are] Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death” (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 216). How powerful it is when Christians are real in the way that they live out these “unsurpassed offers”!
A Church of Affection and Fellowship
Before we end this section, there is one more thing for us to consider: being friendly, hospitable, and service-oriented is not just how to treat others who do not yet know Christ. This applies to how we treat those who are already our brothers and sisters in Christ, too! The Bible addresses time and time again how Christians are to treat one another. Jesus commands His disciples in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Romans 12:10 tells believers, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Why does the Bible emphasize this so much? Shouldn’t it be easier to love other Christians than non-believers? Not always, but we are still called to do it. God’s design for family and for His church is meant to produce blessed fellowship and sincere love among His children. This brotherly affection and love in the church is also a light to others! In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Ladies, we must love one another! When we choose to love our sisters and Christ with a holy affection and to say and do things that bless them, we are living out part of our calling and will also receive great blessings in return (1 Peter 3:8-9).
Also, both serving people outside of the body of Christ and loving those in it is a part of our witness. When family members extend grace and selflessness to one another, it is counter-cultural to what a “normal” reaction might be. And it makes others outside of that family want to be a part of that, too. People cannot help but notice the difference! This can produce something that is deep and enduring inside the hearts of others. There are seemingly innumerable organizations, worthy causes, Facebook groups, church small groups, and much more that we have available to help people nowadays. But when we live in such a way as to help others belong, they are blessed and nurtured as we give and receive hospitality, neighborliness, respect, and grace to one another. And those outside the body of Christ can have the opportunity to come to terms with their deep, eternal need to belong as they observe Christians living the hope that is provided through Christ and the beauty of His church.
We Don’t Belong Here
As we conclude, let’s revisit that question that resonates deep within each of our hearts: Do I belong? We have examined three truths (see Parts 1 and 2 in earlier posts) that God wants each of us as wholehearted women to be deeply assured of. As Christians, we now belong to our Lord, we belong to His family, and we are called to help others to experience that belonging. And yet, there is one final truth that we need to address: we do not belong here. Yes, we as Christians belong to God, we belong to the family of God as part of His church, and we are called to help others belong, too! But no matter how deeply anchored we become in each of these biblical truths, there will always be a feeling that we do not belong that must be grappled with in our time on this earth. Why? Because this is not our final destination!
In 1 Peter 1:1, Peter begins his letter by addressing it to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” This word pilgrims means sojourners or temporary residents. Here are these Christians who are dispersed all over; they all belong to the “elect” through the blood of Jesus. And, yet, they also know that this earth is only their temporary residence. Peter goes on to write about the genuineness of their faith, which will “be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:7b-8). He uses this same terminology again in 1 Peter 2:11 saying, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”
The closer we grow in our relationship with the Lord and in the foundation of our identity, our belonging, our hope in Christ, the more we will also grow in our understanding that we will one day be with the Lord! That desire deep down to belong will be fully realized one day! Revelation 22:3-4 describes a time when “there will be no more curse” and His servants shall serve Him and “see His face.” And in the meantime, as sojourners here on this earth, we can be assured that we belong to our Lord (Isaiah 43:1), that we have a place in His church body (1 Corinthians 12:18), that we can help others to belong (Titus 2:14), and that one day we will always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Revelation 21:3 says, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.’” Amen!
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