You are a lens. And so am I. We’re either convex or concave, either bent in on ourselves (concave) or bent outward towards others (convex). John Calvin referred to the former as being incurvatus in se, curved in on oneself. The Latin makes it sound so much more serious, doesn’t it? It’s like a diagnosis you need special treatment for.
Here’s the thing: it is something we need treatment for. And this has everything to do with our understanding of what the church is and why we go there.
No contemporary Christian would be at a loss for words if asked for examples of strife and discord in the church. Fragmentation and tribalism run rampant. But apart from the debates and social media skirmishes, the principles and the politics, we still greet Sunday each week. We still have to engage with other human beings wrapped in flesh and clothed in cotton—that guy with the bald spot in the shape of superman’s logo; the new father with a sleeve tattoo rocking his infant in the back row; the quiet dad in navy khakis and a polo shirt who’s always embracing his autistic son, giving his body deep pressure and holding his hands so his arms don’t fly off. Real people.
Why do you do it? Why do you go? I’m not talking about routine or some reason punched out in stale Christianese. Think about it. Why do you actually show up?
What Is the Church? A Giving Circle
In order to answer that question, we have to know what the church is. Yes, the church is “the body of Christ.” Yes, the church is a community of believers who profess faith in the resurrected Son of God. But you knew that already. Look closer. The church is God’s bride. So, who is God, and what’s his bride like?
God is a giver. From eternity, the Father has given himself to the Son, and the Son to the Father, and the Spirit to both.
God is a giver. From eternity, the Father has given himself to the Son, and the Son to the Father, and the Spirit to both. Person to person to person. We get to this by working backwards from a passage such as John 3:34–35. “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” The Son utters the words of his Father because the Father has given him his Spirit without measure. The Father also gives all things to the Son. Slow down and process this with me. The Father gives himself in love to the Son, gives the Holy Spirit without measure, and gives the Son all things. Measureless giving—that’s what goes on in the Godhead. God is a giver. He lives in what I call a giving circle. The Father, Son, and Spirit are constantly giving themselves to each other in love, and then God invited us into that giving circle when he created us, but also when he redeemed us. “For God so loved the world that he gave . . .” And what did he give? Himself! That makes a lot of sense if God is self-giving by nature.
That brings us to the church. If God is a giver, and we are his bride, being ever made more like him, then our primary impulse should be giving, not taking. One of my favorite Eugene Peterson quotes concerns giving.
Giving is what we do best. It is the air into which we are born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Giving is the way the world is. God gives himself. He also gives away everything that is. He makes no exceptions for any of us. We are given away to our families, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our enemies—to the nations. Our life is for others (Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses).
“The action that was designed into us before our birth.” Yes, and also the action reinstated when the Spirit gave us rebirth. Salvation is not just about believing; it’s about becoming. What do we become? Givers after God’s own heart. We enter the glorious giving circle of God and give ourselves to others. The church is a congregation of givers. For God so loved that he gave; for we so love that we give.
Why We Go
This all has striking implications for us when it comes to waltzing through the doors of church on Sunday morning. Why do we go? We go to give. Poisoned as we are by rampant consumerism in the west, we tend to look at church as a place that’s meant to serve us. When you think about it, that’s laughable. The one to whom we’re being conformed (Rom. 8:29) came not to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:28). And yet we walk into church thinking about how it will serve us?
We think about how the sermon will feed us, how the worship will lift us up, how the prayers will minister to us. That’s the perspective of a concave lens, someone who’s bent in on himself, always looking to his own needs. We all struggle with this, don’t we?
What if we walked into church like surgeons stepping onto a battlefield, scanning the landscape for triage needs? What if our primary motivation in going to church was giving rather than taking? What if we exchanged the lie of consumerism for the truth of self-giving?
I can’t help but think that the discord and strife would diminish, like ripples on a lake losing momentum. Lords argue for their wants, rights, and principles; servants seek opportunities to give. It’s a stark contrast.
You are a lens, my friend, not just in the world, but within the walls of the church. I’m making it my aim to walk into church as convex for Christ as humanly possible. Who knows? It may be that self-giving will be the thing that purifies the house of God. I wouldn’t be surprised. And neither should you be.
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