"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:23)
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16)
The congregational life of the church has breath-taking potential. We are on show to the world - even beyond this world! (Eph 3:10). Jesus wants the world to look on and to say "The love these people display reminds me of Christ. This love is out of this world. Now I believe that Christ came from the Father. Praise be to God!"
If we took this seriously we would see that there is not 'fellowship' on the one hand and 'mission' on the other. But in the plan and purpose of Jesus our fellowship is missional. Our life together is to the end that we witness to the world. We are a missionary body - a kingdom of priests. (Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10). The community of the church is not a community for its own sake but for the sake of the world. This outward focus is constitutive of our life together. Thus we are neither a 'holy huddle' nor a loose association of evangelists.
These are the two errors we could fall into. On the 'holy huddle' side we may invest in community life for its own sake. And yet Jesus expects that the world will be able to see our united love. On the other side we may neglect our brothers and sisters for the sake of mission. Yet this is impossible if we've understood Jesus' commands above. Loving the 'brotherhood' is missional. Thus when Paul says to do good "especially to those who belong to the household of faith" (Gal 6:10) it is not simply an inwardly-looking nepotism. The love of the Christian family is the shop-window of the gospel and has unparalleled magnetic potential!
The question in practice is how do we make this gospel fellowship visible to the outside world? I have three suggestions, I'd love to hear any that you have.
Churches should keep 'church' commitments to a minimum so that Christians can actually engage in the world around us.
Home groups should be places where non-Christian friends can come along and see fellowship (over meals preferably)
Church members should be encouraged to collaborate in efforts to 'infiltrate' clubs, sports teams, bars etc. This way Christians can 'love one another' before the watching world rather than having guerilla soldiers go on individual 'raids.'
Any other thoughts on the practicalities of this?
For a sermon I just preached on John 13 which prompted these thoughts go here.