In a recent Breakpoint article, John Stonestreet noted, “Our politics is cracking under the weight of a thinning civil society… For decades, sociologists have warned just how thin American civil society has become, replaced by a growing individualism that isolates Americans from the relationships and loyalties that once nurtured a thick social fabric.” Stonestreet maintains as a result of this thinning, “The cultural weight lands on politics.”
The concept of thinning could well be applied to a thinning of the spiritual life of our churches. The cultural weight of civil unrest, coronavirus ethics, and contentious politics have divisively affected our churches. In a time when church should be a place of refuge for the weary, it has too often become a victim of the culture wars. Disagreements and factions have weakened church life, thus thinning its impact on the culture.
It seems that darkness has invaded the fabric of life together as followers of Jesus, who is the true light. Remember Jesus words, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). What the world needs to see is a thickening of the Church through love. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). It is a perpetual debt we owe to one another. “Keep out of debt altogether, except that perpetual debt of love which we owe one another” (Rom 13:8 – Phillips).
A lack of love has produced a spiritual thinning evidenced in people living in darkness and spiritually stumbling. “If anyone claims, ‘I am living in the light,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person still lives in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause other to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness” (I John 2:9-11 NLT).
Here’s how I apply this as a member of my church. First and most important, I remember the enemy wants to sow seeds of discord in the body of Christ. He lives in darkness but comes as an “angel of light.” A negative “person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by darkness” (v 11 above cf. John 8:44).
Secondly, I keep a check on my spirit. “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (I John 1:6). Negativity drowns out sensitivity to the Spirit’s direction. Am I being honest in my responses or am I faking it? Do I have an open or a closed spirit? Am I praying continually, “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth” (Ps. 26:2-3).
Thirdly, I ask others to help me monitor a “negative” or “critical” spirit toward others. If I get stuck in negativity, I walk in darkness, and I can cause others in my church to stumble. There is no room for grace and mercy in the darkness. Do I ask trusted believers to point out behaviors that seem unworthy of the gospel of Christ? (Philippians 1:27) And do I take their feedback to heart?
When my spirit is open and loving I am walking in the light. Men, we can know the difference. Negativity brings a heavy spirit, while love brings lightness and freedom.