For all its dangers and distractions, technology has been a blessing for the Church in 2020 more than in any other year. It’s helped facilitate some version of “togetherness” while we’ve endured these necessary times of separation. And while it’s been a help, we’ve also felt the tension of being apart. As God’s people, that’s not how we’re meant to live (Hebrews 10:24-25).
We can hear God’s truth without attending a church service. We can sing and worship without being in the same room. We can catch up on someone’s life without ever seeing his/her face. In fact, because all these things are true you can almost talk yourself out of the importance (dare I say necessity?) of going to church. But there are other reasons for coming together.
The gathering of the Church—the body of Christ—is about more than just drinking coffee, singing songs, listening to teaching, and going home. We have deep, eternal, significant work to do when we congregate. It is mysterious and, at the same time, completely tangible.
We not only need truth; we not only need to know and love God more. We need each other. Did you know that? No one likes to be needy; and sometimes, if we’re honest, we don’t want to be needed! But we need each other because of what, and Who, lives inside us. We have a gift to give each other and that gift can best be given, and received, when we are together.
Peter explains this truth for us in his first letter. He begins to unpack it in 1 Peter 1:3-7 (ESV):
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (emphasis mine)
This a beautiful reminder of who we are and where we are bound. But let’s consider the word “various” in verse 6: “various trials”. In the Greek, “various” is poikilos and means “existence in various kinds or modes, diversified, manifold, variegated, many colored...woven or embroidered.”
We often see the word “various” in the Gospels. When Jesus healed the sick of “various” diseases, His grace and power were sufficient for every single one. Various is also used secularly, as a descriptor in nature for instance. Think of autumn leaves, a sunset, the plumage of a peacock, or spots on a leopard. One of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, uses lush language in ** “Pied Beauty” to describe the beautiful variety in God’s creation. Or various can describe the character of something or someone that’s intricate, complex, or resourceful.
“Various” is a beautiful concept layered with meaning and a vivid picture of the diverse and varied aspects of the trials we will walk through in life, all with a greater purpose—future glory for Him and for us.
Three chapters later in 1 Peter the word appears again, referencing our high calling as children of God: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace(1 Peter 4:10, ESV, emphasis mine).
In 1 Peter 1:6 our trials are promised to be various, diverse, complex, manifold. Could it be that Peter is saying God’s grace is, as well? Yes. That is exactly what he is saying.
Consider William Barclay’s thoughts:
“To speak of the grace of God as poikilos means that there is no color in the human situation which the grace of God cannot match. And no possible problem can arise to which the grace of God cannot supply the solution. There is no possible set of circumstances, no possible crisis, emergency or demand through which the grace of God cannot find a way, and which the grace of God cannot triumphantly deal with and overcome. There is nothing in life with which the grace of God cannot cope. There is a grace to match every trial, and there is no trial without its grace.”
Please don’t miss what Peter tells us is the purpose of the gift: use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.
Does this mean we are somehow involved in dispensing the very grace of God to one another? Absolutely. We have been given a spiritual gift, and we are to give it away because it is grace for someone else. As His children, we are stewards of God’s grace.
My husband likes to say there are two different kinds of people in any room in any situation. The first is the “Here I am” person who shows up thinking: Here I am! Who’s going to say hi to me, who’s going to ask how I am, who’s going to notice me? He/she often leaves disappointed.
But as believers we are called to be “There you are” people. We are empowered to fight through self-absorption, and with a Spirit-led attitude and renewed mind think instead: There you are! I’m going to reach out first. I’m not only going to ask how you are; I’m going to listen to what you say. Humble me, Lord. Use me and the grace you have deposited inside me to love and encourage and point someone to your Son today.
With all its horror and heartbreak, COVID-19 has served to help us reorder our lives in some fashion. Maybe we’ve made different decisions about how to spend our time, decisions we wouldn’t have considered without this traumatic interruption. For followers of Jesus, Peter’s exhortation in these passages is important as we consider where being involved in a local body of Christ falls in our “new and improved” list of priorities.
Is church attendance simply that for you—going somewhere you are expected to go because it’s the right thing to do in the Bible belt? Or do you view gathering with the body of Christ a life-giving act of worship and obedience, an opportunity to live out the “one anothers” that permeate God’s Word and enrich our lives?
Certainly, in a global pandemic there are times we must avoid interaction. That decision made in wisdom can be an act of love in itself. But whenever all the dust settles, remember: you are so much more than a warm body in a seat on Sunday. We need each other in a “deep-calls-to-deep” kind of way.
As a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you are a steward of treasure inside you. The supernatural gift you were given at the moment of your salvation is God’s provision for someone else. We live “on earth as it is in heaven” when we come together to worship, blessing and strengthening one another in the body of Christ with His beautiful, amazing grace.