Cultivating a Culture of Belonging
Cultivating a Culture of Belonging
Two weeks ago, we concluded a four month dive into Paul’s letter to the Philippian church. Throughout studying this portion of Scripture in our Sunday gatherings and in our Life Groups, we’ve been blessed with so many practical applications for our modern-day context as disciples of Jesus: praying for each other with Spirit-filled intercession, standing firm in the advance of the Gospel, living in humble harmony with each other, walking with role models in the faith, being completely content in Christ, and seeking to meet the needs of others.
Our exhortation this week was to cultivate a culture of belonging in the Church. A culture of belonging that transcends friendly greeting times during the service. One that encompasses far more than a niche/homogenous target market of church consumers, and one that goes deeper than the shallow security of comfortability. “Belonging” is more than a feeling. Church, it is our IDENTITY in Christ…as SAINTS.
As Paul opened his letter to the church in Philippi, so he ends it – addressing the saints. Now unfortunately, this word “saint” has so much baggage attached to it. On the one hand, the term has been used by the Catholic church as a formal title for a person who has gone through a decades (or centuries) long canonization process with all sorts of conditions, conventions, and contrivances. Once a person is granted official “sainthood”, they are deemed worthy of veneration (honor/worship). This practice is nowhere to be found in Scripture.
As a result, most Protestant traditions have rejected this framework of sainthood – and rightly so. The New Testament authors make it clear that they are addressing ALL believers in Christ when the word “saint” appears. To reflect this, some Bible translations (NIV, CEV, GNT) have opted to substitute the phrase “all God’s people” instead. Does this verbiage paint an accurate representation and translation of what the Apostles wrote, or is it a reactionary oversimplification? How did we get here?
By working backwards, the word “saints” had been adopted from the words omnen sanctum or “holy people” in the 4th century Latin translation of the New Testament, called the Vulgate. This was a translation from the original Greek word ἅ γιοι, transliterated as hagioi.Greek grammar geeks (say that 5 times fast…) call this word a “plural substantive form of the adjective hagios (holy)”. A more literal translation of the original Greek might be “The Holy Ones” – it’s an exclusive group!
Going even further back, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament uses this word hagioi as a translation of the Hebrew word ְקדִֹשׁים, transliterated K’doshim. Again, “The Holy Ones.” At this point, you might be asking yourself how this seemingly mundane word-study has any practical, heart-tugging application to your daily walk with the Lord. Hang on to your seat…
You may recall Leviticus 11:44 – “therefore, be holy because I am holy” (ESV). Some have suggested the more literal translation “therefore, be The Holy Ones (K’doshim) because I am The Holy One (K’dosh).” This might seem like an unnecessary nuance, but it paints a richer picture that links back to the Genesis ideal that we are God’s image bearers, fashioned in His likeness, to rule Earth in step with our Creator.
But we know how the story goes. Adam & Eve failed and gave in to the sin of being wise in their own eyes. The nation of Israel continually failed to be “The Holy Ones” of Creator Yahweh, and gave in to the sins of idol-worshippers, instead of remembering the covenant promises. Even created spiritual beings, namely Satan, rebelled against God and gave into haughty pride and disobedience.
Until…Jesus appeared. The predestined plan of salvation for God to become man and save us from our sin and death had arrived. “The Holy One” by whose grace we are saved – displayed by death on a cross and proven through the Resurrection – has taught us how to be “The Holy Ones.” We become like Him by following His example and with the Helper of the Holy Spirit. The way to being The Holy Ones is not through the Laws, or through kingship, or through culture – but through Spirit-transformed hearts that love God and love each other.
Now as the early Church continued to grow, Paul and the other Apostles had to remind those who believed in the resurrected Jesus of their identity as The Holy Ones. In the Corinthian church, conflicts had crept in, and believers began to take their disputes to governmental courts. He writes in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of [The Holy Ones]? Or do you not know that [The Holy Ones] will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?”
Did you catch that? The saints will one day judge the WORLD! Paul goes on, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame.”
How about that one? The saints will judge ANGELS! Paul is making some big claims about us! It’s as if this life is a dim reflection of the everlasting to come. If believers can’t handle trivial conflicts in this life, don’t we have an expectation of an even higher responsibility to come? As John Piper puts it, “That is the most stupendous thing about this text and others like it. Whatever the specifics are, the implication is that we are being elevated to a status and a role in the coming ages that surpasses our present nature like the ocean surpasses a thimbleful of water.”
Do we see this future, elevated position of the The Holy Ones elsewhere in the Scriptures? The prophets Zechariah, in describing the future, eschatological (end-times) “Day of the Lord” says, “Then the LORD my God will come, and all [The Holy Ones] with him (14:3b).”
We see this in Revelation 20:4 – “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
As another example of our already-but-not-yet co-rulership with the risen Christ, Paul exhorts Timothy, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:10-12).
Ultimately, our identity as saints in Christ, or as The Holy Ones of The Holy One, is a present process of a future reality. As saints, we should strive to carry out the “Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” every moment. The Church should also be a present process of our shared future reality – it should be a glimpse of heaven.
Indeed, cultivating a place of belonging in the Church is not a simple task – especially amidst interpersonal conflicts, daily distractions, and spiritual warfare – but it is a high calling of humility, love, and servanthood reflective of our Savior. As Paul wrote earlier in Philippians, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
And He completed this…while we were still sinners. Only when we realize our true identity as sinners-to-saints will the Church be a place of genuine belonging in the finished work of Jesus.
Father, teach us to love others like you first loved us. Help us, by Your Spirit, to be Your Holy Ones, as You are The Holy One.
Your brother in Christ,