In this partnership between us, God and ‘Team Church’, each person has a vital role to play.
God’s role is great: without Him, we can’t be saved, and He is the One who both begins and completes the good work in each one of us! (Phil 1:6) The Message version translates Phil 2:13 as ‘that energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.’ (Phil 2:13, The Message) We rely ultimately on God’s love for us and strength in us as the Holy Spirit dwells in us.
Our part as individuals is to understand what God has done and who we are in God (accepted, chosen, and unconditionally loved) and to let these truths influence, shape and affect how we live. Just as footballers and cricketers can’t just rest on their laurels or reputations but have to train and work hard to be good team players, so we have to follow God with passion and effort, making every effort (as Peter says) to ‘add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.’ (2 Pet 1:5-7) Paul’s advice to individuals spills over into our relationships with others: to ‘do everything without grumbling or arguing.’ (Phil 2:14) Grumbling and arguing were particular problems for the people of Israel in the wilderness wanderings and they are very human characteristics. All of us can easily fall into grumbling or arguing, and most of the time, we don’t even really see these things as a problem. But if a team is to be effective, it has to work together: ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’
God’s plan is that the church acts as a witness to the world, showing people what God is like. No sports fan enjoys watching a team that looks disjointed and at odds with itself. Similarly, Team Church is not much use to our communities if we are disjointed and at odds with each other. Bickering, party strife, holding grudges and arguing for the sake of it are no recommendations for God. There is enough of that in the world. We can’t expect people to believe what we say about God if we are not loving each other and living together in harmony. John said, ‘Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.’ (1 John 2:9-10) Loving each other is the biggest witness we have.
Paul says to the Galatian church, ‘If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’ (Gal 5:15) It’s a striking image. We have to let go of disagreements and division and let what we believe shape us and mould us so that we can become blameless and pure, so that we can become who we are called to be: ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation, shining like stars, holding firmly to the world of life.’ (Phil 2:15-16) We have to forgive and learn to bear with each other: ‘Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’ (Eph 4:31-32) Again, this is something we have to do. God won’t get rid of these things for us; there has to be a co-operation with Him that this old way of life has to go. But if we are living in Him, we will want to get rid of all bitterness, range and anger, brawling, malice and slander. We will want to forgive. Forgiveness is the outworking of a forgiven heart.