What Sort of Church will we Be (John 13:33-35 & Romans 10:14-17)?

The speed at which we move affects how we perceive the world. I recall cycling along a road I had driven on countless times before, but this time, I appreciated the beauty I had previously overlooked. Slowing down, I walked the familiar streets of our parish in Belfast instead of driving through them, and it unveiled a different world before me. By taking the time to walk, I could genuinely observe and engage with our community’s richness.

During one of those walks last year, as I immersed myself in the surroundings of a park, I struck up a conversation with a stranger. We began with the typical Northern Irish exchange: “How are you?” “Not too bad, thanks! And yourself?” Her response was ordinary, yet it held a weight that lingered within me. As we talked about life in the city and the people who dwell here, she uttered a simple phrase that resonated deeply: “There is not much hope these days.”

As our conversation ended, I continued, but her words echoed in my mind. Passing people, houses, businesses, buses, cars, and shops, I pondered the meaning behind her statement. “What does she mean by the lack of hope in the city?” I questioned myself. And then, as I arrived at my destination—the church—I finally grasped the answer. Regardless of her specific intent, I realised what the remedy was: Hope is found in Jesus. Moreover, through His body, the church, this hope is meant to be shared—a place of hope and a conduit for delivering hope to others.

For the Christians, there is only one hope: Jesus. And, for the Christian, there is only one vehicle through which that Hope is made known to the world – the church. Whether in North Belfast, or two weeks ago in Rwanda as we worshipped for four and a half hours, or three weeks ago in Central London as we honoured people from every corner of the world: we were all there for one purpose – to know the hope of Jesus and make known the hope of Jesus. Everything we are and do as a church is about Jesus, whether it’s encountering him more and growing in our relationship with him or introducing people to him for the first time. As church, we are crucial in offering hope to a needy world. Specifically in our part of the city. We are not just a building; we are not just a service; we are not just a particular group of people. We are a gathering of believers, a community devoted to embodying and extending the hope found in Jesus. Through acts of love, compassion, service, mercy and sacrifice, we should naturally display what Archbishop William Temple once said: “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” And, we should be a community that is desperate to see others join us and whose heart yearns to reach and transform our part of the city with the hope of Christ.

The church is the delivery of the hope the world is looking for. The source by which the light of Christ will shine into the Darkness, where the hurt will find healing, and the weary the rest their soul is longing for. How? By living out the teachings of Christ, embracing His grace and extending it to others, the church can fulfil its purpose as a beacon of hope.

Today, and every day we must ask: What sort of church community will we be? and What might people’s experience of our community show us to be? Let us be a church that stands as a symbol of hope in a world of hopelessness. How? By taking the call of Christ seriously to take up our cross and follow him, living as Christ in the world, and loving as Christ within our family of faith as a witness to our hope. We make known the hope of Christ by modelling Christ in every area of our lives, by how we interact with our neighbours, act in work, by how we speak to one another and of one another within this family of faith, by how we serve and support each other as a family. Everything we do as disciples of Christ will be either witness to or witness against the hope that we claim. How will living in the world and loving within our part of Christ’s body will directly witness positively or negatively to Christ’s work on the Cross and the Holy Spirit’s work in us? So, What sort of church will we be?

By God’s Grace and Spirit, will we witness his Glory and our hope in him because of the Grace of the Cross, or will we be a lighthouse where the blubs have longed dimmed because our hope has long passed? Billy Graham challenged once

” Christians are called to be a lighthouse in a dark world, offering hope to the hopeless, love to the broken, and healing to the hurting. The church, as the body of Christ, has the responsibility to shine God’s light and share the message of eternal hope with all people.” – Billy Graham

For a few moments, let’s think about what that might look like for us as individuals within a family of faith and as the church family that is SPB called to serve in this parish during these days. Or, as Mordecai charged Esther: “for such a time as this.” Let’s consider (for a few moments) what it means to be Hope bringers under three headings:

  1. Hope known among us ()
  2. Hope known within us ()
  3. Hope Known Through Us ()

1 Hope Known Among Us (John 13:34-35)

If you were to walk down the street and stop someone you did not know and ask them the first thought that came into their head when they thought about (our) Church, what do you think they would say? Something about the building, something about the style, or perhaps something about the people? We would hope that it would be something positive or at least neutral. Yet, if we are being honest, it could easily be something that makes us comfortable, something negative that those around us have perceived about us, whether accurate or untrue. What are we known in the community we have been called to know? That is the most challenging question of perception for our mission and the daily area in which we live. Do those that God has called us to reach, serve, and love know us positively, or do they feel no need for us?

Never mind how the random person on the street might define us; I wonder if someone asked you what was the distinguishing feature of the local church you belong to, how you would answer if you were being 100% honest with them. Tim Challies notes “Sometimes churches are known more for what they are against than what they are for…”1 Thus, as we think about how others perceive us and we perceive ourselves, the most important thing to ponder: How does the head of the Body, the Church – Christ our Lord desire us to be known in the world? Challies said: “Sometimes churches are known more for what they are against than what they are for, but we must strive to be a people who are known by our love, compassion, and grace.2 That last sentence is a beautiful summary statement of the even more powerful and beautiful commandment of Jesus to his disciples, they who would begin the church:

“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” – Jesus Christ.

How will we be known in our local community and the world? By Love! Specifically, by how we love one another: notice the narrowness of the command and the broadness of its impact. We know our hope in Christ in the world, primarily among those God has called us to be in community with, by how we love the family of Christ. The narrowness of the first command of Christ to the church, this rag-tag group of disciples who had nothing in common, is that they were to first love one another How? By the example of Christ, “Just as I have loved you.” Then notice the broadness of the impact: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Let those words linger: “All people,” not a few people, not a lot of people; no, if we love one another as Christ loved us then all people will know about the hope of Jesus. If we do nothing else to make known the hope of Christ in the world, all we need to do is love one another. So essential is this command to live in the Church, Kingdom, and mission that Jesus repeats three times:

  1. Love one another:
    1. Just as I have loved you: you are also to love one another
    2. If you have a love for one another

When something is stated three times in the scriptures by God, it is to be interpreted as an absolute. When we say Holy Holy Holy, it’s not because it sounds nice repeated, but because the number of repetitions confirms to us the absoluteness of God’s holiness. It is a way of crying out: There is no one more holy than Yahweh. Thus, when at the very beginning of their ministry when Jesus speaks to his disciple the command to love one another and in that command repeats the imperative – the push of it – three times, he is saying to them there is nothing more significant they are called to to make known the hope of Christ among themselves to the world by loving one another! Ed Stetzer writes:

“The reputation of a church in its local community is not built on slogans or marketing techniques, but on genuine acts of love, compassion, and sacrificial service.”3

This love that we are commanded to among ourselves that makes known the hope of Christ to all people is not abstract, ethereal, or simply spiritual in that it is a feeling in our hearts towards certain people. No, this love that we are commanded to is grounded in the earthy reality of Christ’s ministry and mission, of which there is no better and hard-hitting example than given in this passage: The washing of the disciple’s feet. In light of it and Christ’s ultimate example of selfless love – the cross, each of us must ask, Does our love of each other in this family of faith model the love of Christ towards us and make known the love of Christ to all people? Does Christ’s love for us affect every aspect of our being that expresses love for another: How do we speak to someone else? How do we speak of someone else? How do we support our friends? How do we help those who might annoy us? How do we pray for those who are with us? How do we serve those in our church family regardless of the who we are serving? Let us make known Hope Kown among us by how we love another as Christ loved us.

2 Hope Known Within Us (Acts 2:46)

Suppose we naturally live as Christ by loving one another in the family God has called us to be a part of and delighting when others join it with all their eccentricities, baggage and quirks. In that case, we love the opportunity to love them because we are not an exclusive family but rather an increasing one by the Grace of God. All of this is suggestive of something additionally obvious, something internally obvious: If the hope of Christ is being made known through our love of one another – a displaying of Grace – then it should also be visible within us. So, naturally, as we live for Jesus and love like him, we will pursue our relationship with Him, and as we do, we will make that hope through the work of God within us. Jesus said it himself in John 15:

[5] I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit because you can do nothing without me. [6] If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. [7] If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. [8] My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples. John 15:5-8 CSB

So how do we do this? By making Jesus the priority of our lives and everything we do, by putting our relationship with him before anything that we might do for him and by prioritising the gifts that he has given us to know Him and grow in our knowledge of him. We enjoy the good gifts of the Kingdom of God, and when I think about personal and community discipleship, I am often drawn to the birth of the church in Acts. As the disciples waited to begin the work of God, they were called to what did they do? They prayed, worshipped and devoted themselves to scripture and the breaking of Bread:

[42] They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. – Acts 2:42 CSB

In doing these things, using God’s gifts to grow in faith, we know what it is to live for Christ, love as Christ, and grow in our likeness of him – our discipleship. So I ask you to consider how you make the Hope of Christ known within yourself. Are you studying the fellowship with God’s people in God’s word, enjoying gathering at the Lord’s table, communing with God in prayer, and being devoted to the scripture because, as St Jerome said: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”4 Our discipleship within the context of the community is how we make known the Hope of Christ within us, Charles Stanley Challenges:

“Discipleship is not an option for the believer; it is the heartbeat of our journey with Christ. As we prioritise our discipleship, we open ourselves to the transforming power of God’s Word, prayer, community, and obedience. These means of grace enable us to grow in intimacy with Christ, be conformed to His image, and bear fruit that impacts the world around us.” – Charles Stanley5

3 Hope Known Through Us (Romans 10:14-17)

The Hope of all hopes is made known primarily by how we love one another; Christ reminds us that this is our witness to the world. We show his love for us and all people by how we love those who he lives. So then, as we live sacrificing, loving lives modelling Christ, we also make known the hope of Christ with us because, in our desire to live like him and model our lives on him, we do all that is necessary to pursue our relationship with him or discipleship. Thus, the work of Grace within us makes known to those who know us the hope of the Gospel, the hope of the Cross outside us. It is simple. To live like Jesus and love like Jesus, we must be intentional about our walk with Jesus and all that is necessary to nurture our life with him, and then from it flows naturally our true hope in Christ. Thus, as a church family and individual disciples of Jesus, when we live like Jesus and do the things Jesus commanded us to do: love, honour and care for each other and spend time with God in prayer, fellowship, his word and thanksgiving, we will make known the hope of Christ. From our natural and faithful living, the glory of God and the hope of the Cross will be made known to those who come into contact with us. Yet, as much as there is a natural display of hope for each of us – and the church family – there must be something of an intentional show of our hope. The Hope of Christ with intentionality must also be made known through us; Billy Graham, one of the greatest evangelists of the last century, put it like this: “Evangelism is not an option for the Christian life; it is a natural outflow of a heart captivated by the love and grace of Christ. It is intentional, purposeful, and driven by a deep desire to share the hope we have found in Him with others who are lost and searching.”6

There are so many passages in the Scriptures that we could use to help us understand what it means for Christians to be intentional about their mission and to make know the hope of Christ. Yet, Pauls’s words from chapter 10 in his letter to the church in Rome capture the natural urgency and intention of joining Christ by the Holy Spirit in the harvest fields:

[14] How can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? [15] And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news? [16] But not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? [17] So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 CSB

That which Paul wrote to a church 2000 years ago to summarise the urgency of our Gospel work, the why behind our going to the Harvest fields with Christ: because if we do not, who will? If we do not go into the streets that God has placed around us, if we do not speak to those who are not yet part of our family of faith if we do not preach the good news of Jesus in word and deed in and around the city of Belfast if we as a church do not look outwards and exist for the benefit of those who do not belong to us then how “can they (those who are unknown to us) call on Him if they have not believed, and how can they who have not believed known without hearing, and how can they hear if someone will not tell them. We are that someone, and we must see the hope of Christ intentionally through us in word and deed. Tim Keller sums it up perfectly when he reflects:

“Intentional mission and outreach are not merely tasks to be checked off a list; they are the overflow of a transformed heart, compelled by God’s love and empowered by His Spirit. It is through intentional engagement with the world around us that we embody the hope of Christ and extend His transformative message to those who are searching for meaning and purpose.”7

Conclusion: So What Sort of Church Will We Be?

For Christians, Jesus represents the quintessential beacon of hope, with the Church serving as the conduit for its dissemination. Regardless of geographical location—Belfast, Rwanda, or Central London—, the purpose remains constant: to apprehend the hope found in Jesus and make it known. The Church is more than a mere tower, a service, or a collective of individuals. It is a vibrant community of believers who embody and propagate the hope encapsulated in Christ.

Through acts of love, compassion, service, and sacrificial deeds, the Church embodies the profound words of Archbishop William Temple: “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” Moreover, an ardent desire to welcome others into this fold should exist. The heart should ache for the transformation of Belfast, to see it bathed in the hope of Christ.

The Church functions as a courier, delivering the hope the world yearns for. It stands tall as a luminous lighthouse amid darkness, extending expectancy to the hopeless, love to the broken, and healing to the wounded. The modus operandi? To live out the teachings of Jesus, to embrace His grace, and to extend it to others. In so doing, the Church fulfils its purpose as a beacon of hope.

Now, let’s ponder a moment. What kind of church community should one aspire to be? What impression should it leave on those who encounter it? Let it be a Church that stands resolute, an emblem of hope in a world fraught with despair. And you know what? Love is the key to it all. Yes, my friends, love is paramount. When we love one another as Jesus loved us, the world will recognise us as His disciples. It’s as simple as that.

Yet, it doesn’t end there. We must also cultivate the hope of Christ within ourselves. Our relationship with Him must take precedence. Immersing ourselves in His Word, devoting time to prayer, and engaging in fellowship nurture the growth of hope within us, allowing it to overflow into the world.

Lastly, let us not keep this hope to ourselves. No, it must be shared, proclaimed, and echoed far and wide. As Romans 10:14-17 reminds us, how can people believe in something they have never heard? Therefore, as the Church, we are responsible for proclaiming this hope so that all may hear, feel, and find solace in the everlasting hope of Jesus Christ.

  1. Challies, Tim. “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.” Crossway, 2007.
  2. Challies, Tim. “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.” Crossway, 2007
  3. Stetzer, Ed. “Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation.” B&H Publishing Group, 2012.
  4. St. Jerome, “Prologue to the Commentary on Isaiah,” in Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, ed. Robert Louis Wilken (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 5.
  5. Charles Stanley, The Gift of Discipleship: Exploring Key Passages from the Gospel of Matthew (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 58.
  6. Billy Graham, The Journey: How to Live by Faith in an Uncertain World (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2006), 123.
  7. Tim Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 87.

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