The theme this week has been centered around how other people view our Christian life, and whether our life attracts others to the Church, or drives them away. At first glance, this appears to be a burden we don’t deserve. Why should our actions determine whether someone joins the Church? Isn’t that the same thing as judging us? Is it fair that our actions are used ‘against us’ by others who are judging the Church as hypocrites? That is the point this week. It isn’t about what it fair, but about being a witness.
Brethren, since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me, he is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we shall live with him by the power of God. Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray God that you may not do wrong - not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. What we pray for is your improvement. I write this while I am away from you, in order that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority which the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. – 2nd Corinthians 13.3-13
Saint Paul must have wondered the same thing about our actions, so he says, “Test yourselves.” Have you tested yourself lately to determine if Christ is in you? As Orthodox Christians we were jointed to Christ at our Baptism and received the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can ever separate us from God, nothing. But do we live as if He is inside of bodies? If we are being honest, which is the only way we can get an accurate test, most of the time we live as if we are living alone and not partnering with God. On a ‘good day’ maybe we talk to Him, but we rarely talk with Him.
This is a great challenge, and it has nothing to do with whether we ‘get it right’ 100% of the time. Clearly, we do not. What matters is that we are trying to ‘get it right’ remembering that God is with us, a part of us, at every step. That is the purpose of our Light and repentance. What is remaining is how we interact with others.
If we want our Church to grow, as Christ commanded in Matthew 28.19, then we must interact with others and invite them to our Church to ‘Come and See’ God as we see Him. If we see Him as an angry vengeful resentful and dictating God, that will be revealed in our invitation. If, on the other hand, we see Him as a loving forgiving grace-filled God Who desires us to be with Him in Heaven, that will reveal itself. Who wants to be part of a God who is always angry at our mistakes? If we are always angry at the mistakes of others, then they will think God is always angry. It is impossible to show God as loving and forgiving if we are not loving and forgiving if God lives in us.
The key to this is basic, not simple, but basic. We know just how little others know about our internal pain and the struggle we experience trying to live according to God’s desire. We know how much we have been forgiven by God after the countless times we mess up. How is it that we don’t give others the same courtesy? If we can remember we know as little about the struggles of others as they know about our struggles, and that only God knows all, then and only then can we act as if Christ is in us. Maybe this is what Saint Paul was trying to express. We all have doubt that we are ‘getting it right’, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us in His Church, and it shouldn’t mean we don’t want others in the His Church either.
We cannot ignore that single most effective way to remember that Christ is in us. We must make it a priority to be in Church as often as possible, prepared to always receive Holy Communion unless our Spiritual Father has forbid us. If we want Christ in us, we should receive Him into our bodies every opportunity we get. It is the only chance we have to defeat the devil at his game, and the only way to ensure there is never a void of God’s loving and grace-filled presence in our actions. If you want Christ in you, you must receive Holy Communion and live with Him.