This week I was encouraged twice to resist negative people in my life, once in a Facebook post, another in a chapter of a book I am reading by a Christian author. We hear a lot about avoiding “negative people or energy” these days, and there are probably many ways to interpret the idea. However, in “No is a Beautiful Word,” the author is particular. “Our world is filled with negativity and incivility, and these seem to be increasing exponentially. Here is my challenge. You can refuse the lure of pessimism, toxic attitudes, and never-ending negativism. Choose to fix your heart and mind on what is good, beautiful, positive, and edifying. (Philippians 4:8)” (1) Our culture has a powerful influence on us, so we need to be careful about its interpretation of what is good, especially since so many “bad” things are called right today. Just think of the current slang words used to describe something good, like “dope” or “sick.” But Christians are called to walk with the Lord in a way that builds up the body. That is our primary calling, whether we are living in Europe, Latin America, Africa, or America. Our culture should not determine whether or not we live independently of each other.
“Grace frees you from the dissatisfying claustrophobia of your individualism to enjoy the fulfilling freedom of loving and serving God…Individualism is not freedom; it is bondage. Living for yourself is not liberty; it is a self-imposed prison…The entrance of sin into the world and into our hearts teaches us that we were not hardwired for independence. It…complicates things. The fall made us all a danger to ourselves. Because of the sin in us, we think bad things, we desire bad things, we are attracted to bad things, and we choose bad things—and we are blind to much of this going on inside of ourselves…It really is true that individualism is a delusion, that joyful submission is the good life, and that Jesus alone is able to transport you from one to the other. If you find more joy in serving God than yourself, you know that grace has entered your door, because only grace has the power to rescue you from you.” (2)
Every book in the Bible reflects God’s desire that we live as a community. When people ask me what I miss about living in Africa, I always speak of the communal aspect of life in sub-Sahara Africa that I miss. In developed nations, however, people are inclined to live independently, having little contact with those outside of their small circle of family, friends, and co-workers. Yet we have the opportunity to develop a community life that reflects biblical principles which I learned in the African community and experienced in the churches there. In Kenya, a women’s guild of the local church started a home for children with AIDS/HIV. In Ghana, 200 church members came to our village to gift us with food for the children living there. In Liberia, a church is the main sponsor of a home for severely disabled children. These churches are made up of individuals who use their peace and well-being to assist others in a big way. This is how the body of Christ is meant to work. We were not created or designed by God to be independent of him or each other, but to live as a well-functioning body for his glory and pleasure. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:4, 12-16.)
Three times in Acts, Luke writes how the church grew and improved after a time of trials, during a time of peace (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 16:4). As we look at the early church, we find Stephen stoned, Saul attacking Christians, but then converted. The apostles were confused about his conversion until Barnabas brought him to Jerusalem. The apostles were settled, but when he spoke against the Hellenists they tried to kill him, so he was sent to Tarsus. We don’t know exactly how it happened, but “…the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:31) In His exposition of Acts 9:31, John Gill described the effects of the church’s peace, resulting in five particular areas. The church, having “…a godly fear, which has the Lord for its author, is not of a man’s self, but of the grace of God, and is encouraged and increased by the discoveries of his grace and goodness…it shows itself in  a hatred of sin; in a departure from it;  in a carefulness not to offend the Lord;  in withholding nothing from him, though ever dear and valuable, he calls for;  and in attending to all the parts of divine worship:  and walking in it denotes a continuance in it, a constant progression in all the acts of internal and external worship, which are both included in the fear of the Lord…” (3)
As I look at these five outcomes of God’s peace on the churches and the body of Christ, I wonder if I manifest these characteristics to others, to encourage them in their faith. Do others know that I resist and detest my own sinfulness? Or do I offend God by offending others by my insensitivity or neglect? Are my hands open to give anything and everything to God, even my “irreplaceable” time and energy without fearing their loss? How do I worship Him, with my whole heart, or superficially on Sunday mornings only by my appearance in church? Is my life worshipful? Do my walk, my choices and decisions reflect spiritual growth and an increased appreciation and love for Christ? What am I doing with the peace God has given our local church, after a time of grief? When my brothers and sisters have peace after a particular struggle, am I aware of their underlying sensitivity and vulnerability, to comfort and help them with God’s Word?
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” (Hebrews 13:20-21) As the Spirit works in you, he works in us for his glory. Let’s welcome the work of God during times of peace, to give us hearts for God and each other, calling us away from the love of independence and individualism.
(1) Harney, Kevin G., “No Is a Beautiful Word” page 146, Zondervan, Kindle Edition.
(2) Tripp, Paul David, “New Morning Mercies,” May 29, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2014.
(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 9:31, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-9.html