the Hope of Survivors

A Healthy Church: Love in All Purity by Jennifer Jill Schwirzer

ChurchIt is not by accident that one of the most prominent biblical metaphors for the church is family. God intends the church to be a family in the truest sense of the word. For instance, the Bible says the family of God resides under the care of the heavenly Father (2 Corinthians 6:18). Jesus called “whoever does the will” of that Father his “mother” and “brothers,” (Matthew 12:49-50). We, the “household of God” or the “household of faith” treat older men as fathers, “younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, in all purity,” (Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:1).

I love that “in all purity” part, don’t you? For when any kind of impurity enters a familial relationship, a horrible thing happens. The label for this horrible thing rolls off the tongue like a bad aftertaste—incest. Incest happens when that which God designed as a safe place becomes a dangerous place. And the very family called by God to be an instrument of care becomes an instrument of destruction. Statistically, sexual abuse in the form of incest harms people more than non-incestuous sexual abuse—as bad as that is. Sexual abuse in church is, at its core, spiritual incest and has a similar impact. It resembles an autoimmune disease where the very thing designed to protect, attacks people at their most vulnerable point.

Often the church is a last resort for those whose relationship landscapes resemble a post-war combat zone. They come broken to try again. In God’s plan these weary ones find shelter and connection; in the devil’s plan the very vulnerability that recommends them to help, lays them open to hurt. May it never be! May God help us to create a holy, happy family in the church. Research shows that the nurturing activities of the parent have an inverse correlation with risk of sexual abuse. In other words, the daddy that changes the baby’s diapers is less likely to molest, and the mother that feeds the baby at her breast will likely never touch inappropriately. The best defense against the wrong kind of love is the right kind of love. When we treat each other like family, “in all purity,” we love with that right kind of love and create a powerful force field past which the devil can’t tempt.

The New Testament is filled with positive, encouraging instruction for the church in the form of “one another” statements. There are 29 to be exact. Here are a few examples:

Be kindly affectionate to one another, in brotherly love,” (Romans 12:10).
In honor giving preference to one another,” (Romans 12:10).
Be like-minded toward one another,” (Romans 15:5).
Receive one another, just as Christ also received us,” (Romans 15:7).
Greet one another with a holy kiss,” (Romans 16:16).
Through love serve one another,” (Galatians 5:13).
Bear one another’s burdens,” (Galatians 6:2).
Submitting to one another in the fear of God,” (Ephesians 5:21).
Comfort each other and edify one another,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Through these and countless other inspired statements we get a picture of a tightly bonded spiritual family in which followers of Jesus can find acceptance, affection, unity, care, opportunity to serve, edification and comfort.

The church is a marvelous, multi-faceted community that, in God’s plan, elevates and blesses its members. But it’s not all about us. It’s about collectively and synergistically revealing the love of God through community. “We have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men,” (1 Corinthians 4:9). Heaven and earth watch longingly to see a portrait of Jesus in the human race. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:35). Jesus Himself prayed, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me,” (John 7:21). Will Jesus’ prayer be answered?

Yes. The end-time scenes of the book of Revelation present the “marriage of the Lamb,” (19:7) when the bride emerges from her dressing room, “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints,” (19:8). Dressed in Jesus’ righteousness, the saints “put on love,” (Colossians 3:14) which is “the fulfillment of the law,” (Romans 13:10). “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” (Galatians 5:14). This little planet, twirling in space, has become the focal point of a universe torn by sin. Can God heal the deepest of wounds? Can He bind the most estranged hearts? Can He transform the darkest curses? Our love one for another in Christ answers those questions with a resounding “Yes!”

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18