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It can be difficult to know how to serve everyone in a church setting. Children have different needs than youth, who have different needs than young adults, who have different needs than older adults, who have different needs than seniors. There is even a wide range within each age category – differing genders, marital statuses, employment statuses, educational backgrounds, hobbies, interests, musical preferences. How can the church serve all of these people well?
The One Thing Everyone Wants
Well, I suppose there can be more than one thing that everyone wants, but I am going to focus on only one of those things today: acceptance. Here’s a definition: “the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.”
There isn’t a single person in the world who doesn’t want to be accepted. They want others to show an interest in them as a human being. They don’t want to be a statistic or a project. They want others to accept them as they are without judgment. They know they’re not perfect. They just want to belong and to be loved unconditionally.
Some may try to persuade you (and themselves!) that they don’t care about being accepted. Don’t be fooled! These are the people who want and need acceptance most of all.
God Accepts Us
Anyone who responds to God by putting their faith in Jesus is accepted by God. Jesus himself made this clear (John 6:35-40):
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But you [people from the crowd who were following Jesus just to be fed by him (see verse 26)] haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. 37 However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. 38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”
Jesus never rejects anyone who comes to him. Why? Because he is following the will of God the Father, not his own will. God’s will is that not one person who responds is lost. Each one will receive eternal life and be raised to that new life at the end of this age through Jesus’ resurrection power.
We Should Accept Other Believers
Jesus left an example for us to follow. Just has he submitted to the Father’s will, those who follow Jesus should submit to the Father’s will. If Jesus doesn’t reject anyone who comes to him in order to fulfill the Father’s will, his followers should do the same.
Believers are commanded to accept other believers: “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory” (Romans 15:7). When Paul wrote this, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy for us to follow. The context for this command is a warning against criticism of other believers.
Jewish and Gentile believers were at odds. Jewish believers continued to follow their Jewish customs, which included not eating meat sacrificed to idols, not eating meat that still had blood in it, and worshiping on Saturday, the traditional Jewish Sabbath. Gentile believers who had always eaten meat from the markets (much of which had previously been sacrificed to idols and was not drained of blood in accordance with the Jewish law) were continuing to eat meat from the markets after they became believers. Gentile believers also tended to worship on Sunday in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection day.
Paul says none of those things are important in and of themselves. He does say, however, that believers should love each other enough not to condemn each other for following their conscience. A person who does not agree that a particular action is wrong is also warned against causing another believer to go against their personal convictions. Believers need to avoid doing anything that causes someone else to violate their conscience.
Believers aren’t supposed to live only to please themselves but should have others in mind. “For even Christ didn’t live to please himself” (Romans 15:3). This echoes Jesus’ statement that we looked at earlier: “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38). As we follow Jesus’ example, we should accept one another in submission to the Father’s will “so that God will be given glory” (Romans 15:7).
We Should Accept Everyone
We humans become part of a particular group because the members of the group are similar to us in some way. We join sports teams because we love sports, charitable organizations because we support their causes, and gather friends who share interests and views. This is perfectly natural and helps us fulfill our God-given need for companionship.
Sometimes, however, we have difficulty accepting those who are outside our group. These outsiders make us feel uncomfortable. They challenge our views, don’t understand our inside jokes and jargon, and may even look physically different from us.
2 Peter 1:3-11 outlines how believers’ response to God leads them to love everyone, regardless of whether they belong to God (yet!) or not:
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
Note that Peter says that we are to supplement our “brotherly affection” (our love for other believers) with love for everyone. Our love for other believers needs to come first. If we can’t love one another when we share the same faith, how can we possibly love and accept those who are outside the faith? When we learn to love each other as believers, we are free to love those who do not yet believe.
Really… How Accepting are We?
We like to think that we are welcoming, loving, and accepting churches. However, we can unintentionally show that some people belong in our churches more than others.
- Do seekers and newcomers to Canada feel accepted when we use Christian jargon during our worship services?
- Do singles and seniors feel accepted when they look at our church calendars and find them full of activities for children and families?
- Do deeply wounded people feel accepted when we casually pull out our go-to Bible verses of reassurance rather than taking the time to really listen to and empathize with them?
While people will definitely turn away from our churches if they see believers in open conflict with each other, they will also turn away if they do not feel our churches are trying to meet them where they are in life.
How will you show someone God’s acceptance today?