20 Quotes on (Better) Loving Your Church – Matt Smethurst

I (Matt Smethurst) recently read Megan Hill’s new book, A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church (Crossway, 2020), which I highly recommend. Here were my favorite 20 quotes.

Paul [experienced] many of the challenges of life in the local church. He was viewed with skepticism by church leaders (Acts 9:26). He suffered personal attacks from false teachers and their disciples (2 Cor. 10:10). He was intentionally misunderstood by other Christians (2 Pet. 3:16). He had disagreements with other Christians (Acts 15:36–40). He was disappointed by other Christians (see 2 Cor. 11:22–29). He sat alone in prison, longing for committed fellow workers but realizing “they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:21). And—in what may be the saddest verse in all of the Epistles—he recounts, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). If anyone knew how disappointing the local church can be, it was the apostle Paul. (15–16)

Private worship is never the highest or most glorious worship. . . . We might mistakenly think that we are closest to God when we worship him privately, but John’s experience teaches us that as important and intimate as time alone with the Lord may be, it can’t be compared to the privilege of corporate worship. (49)

In an era that prizes constant change and originality, it can be surprising to realize that corporate worship has neither. (49)

Because God is the exalted and holy object of our worship, we acknowledge that he is also its rightful director. . . . From the call to worship to the final benediction, corporate worship is saturated with the word of God for the good of the people of God. (50–51)

There is nowhere else on earth that you will be nearer to heaven. (56)

A local church’s elders do not rule on their own merits or according to their own designs but as subjects and delegates of Christ the chief shepherd. . . . Our elders may appear to be painfully ordinary men, but under their loving leadership, we receive the ministry of Christ himself. (61)

This is the privilege and duty of the flock of God—to receive the shepherding of its elders. But before we can receive their ministry, we must identify as their flock. This means that we must publicly join a local church. (62)

Separated from the body our spiritual gifts are useless. (78)

However it might appear, the people and gifts represented in our local church are exactly the people and gifts we need. . . . Because of God’s sovereign choosing, no part is missing, and every part is valuable. (80)

Not only does Christ fill the church, but the church is the fullness of Christ. . . . Christ cannot be a head without a body; he cannot be a king without a kingdom; he cannot be a mediator without his people; he cannot be a redeemer without his church. The Father validated the work of Christ by raising him from the dead, seating him on the throne, and giving him a body (Eph. 1:20–23). The church is the irrefutable evidence of Christ’s complete and effective atonement for his people. (82–83)

Our holiness is not merely personal. It is also the foundation of our corporate identity as the church. The surprising thing about the Bible’s testimony is that the word saints does not single out exemplary church members, or church members whose gifts and graces are only of a particular variety. In fact, in biblical terms, there are no individual saints. In its sixty appearances in the New Testament, the word is always plural and always used as a description of all the Christians in the church. The corporate people of God are, for example, “the saints at Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26), “the saints who are in Ephesus” (Eph. 1:1), “the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (Phil. 1:1), and “the saints who are in the whole of Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1). We are not lone saints, haloed marble statues standing aloof on separate hills; we are corporate saints, members of a holy company, and most truly the holy ones only when we are viewed together. (89)

When Satan whispers poisonous enticements in your ear, remember that you do not stand alone. In that moment, the prayers of God’s gathered people ascend before his throne and join the prayers of Christ himself, pleading for your perfect holiness. Satan halts, and sin relaxes its grip because God’s people have prayed for you. The prayers of the whole church uphold the holiness of all the saints. (93)

In the church, we make it easy for others to be holy, whatever that may cost us. . . . Only in the church do we find fellow saints who value our holiness enough to call us back when we wander. . . . In the church, we have a community of people who are willing to lovingly warn us away from the soul-destroying brink of sin and who will lower a rescue rope if we ever tumble over. (95, 96)

Christ is not the powerless head of a terminally ill body. . . . Christ will make his whole body holy just as he is holy. (97)

Like the members of our biological family, we haven’t chosen them for ourselves, but they have been chosen for us, and we are therefore inseparably bound to them. Because we are allied with Christ, we are allied with his family. . . . Our family loyalty ought to make disunity unthinkable. (106)

In the church, affection is not reserved for someone we especially like. It’s also not withheld from someone we find awkward or difficult. We don’t express affection only for the people of our choosing; we express affection for the people of God’s covenant choosing. (108)

Belonging to the church will always increase our obligations and decrease our independence. And this is good. (109)

The church is not a manmade society that we can participate in—or opt out of—according to our own level of comfort. The PTA, the neighborhood association, or the library booster club do not obligate us to personal sacrifice when things get tough. Family does. Because God’s people are our family, we will hold our own preferences and priorities loosely (Acts 4:32; Phil. 2:3–4). We will open our hearts and our doors; we will pull up another chair to the dinner table and add another name to our prayer list. We will give them our groceries and furniture and smiles. We will share their grief and trials and disappointments. We will look for ways to show love. As a result, we will expect to have less money and less free time than we would have on our own. We will expect to have added sorrow. We will also expect to have great joy. (110)

Humanly speaking, a church prayer meeting doesn’t look like much. A group of people spending an hour with their eyes closed taking turns addressing an unseen God is unlikely to draw the acclaim of the world. At best, it seems like a quaint ritual. At worst, outright foolishness. Our unbelieving friends and neighbors place little value on an uncomfortable, time-consuming, spiritual practice that has no tangible or immediate results. The people of the world dismiss our intercessions with barely a thought. But though they don’t know it, the church at prayer is their very best friend. People walking in darkness have no better ally than a group of believers on their knees, united in the work of pleading for the light of Christ to shine in their undying souls. (114)

The church in eternity will appear more lovely, but it will not be more loved. (140)

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