Ray Ortlund, pastor of Emmanuel Church in Nashville, TN, had a great post yesterday, "My Church or the Kingdom?". In it, Ortlund addresses the common notion that building up God's kingdom is more important than building up one's own church. He asks:
Suppose I said, "My passion isn't to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I'll work for that. I'll pray for that. I'll sacrifice for that. But don't expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I'm aiming at something grander."
We would rightly call such a view of marriage absurd. How can one have a passion for Marriage without having a passion for one's own, particular marriage?
Likewise, Ortlund points out the absurdity of working for "The Church" without working for one's own, local church. How often do we say things like, "It's not about going to church, it's about being the Church"? How often do we strive for "global justice" while neglecting the pursuit of justice in our own churches, home and neighborhoods? How often do we rail against "false doctrine in the Church" while making little effort to build our own churches up through solid, Biblical doctrine?
I'm reminded of Paul's admonition to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33. In it, Paul gives undoubtedly the most exalted, transcendant view of marriage ever written, probing the unsearchable mystery of marriage as a cosmic portrait of Christ and the Church. Lest his readers be tempted to then say, "Ah! So what really matters is not marriage itself, but that greater spiritual reality that it signifies", Paul pointedly returns to the necessity of loving one's own spouse. He says,
"This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Eph. 5:32-33, NKJV, emphasis added).
Paul knows our temptation to focus on abstract spirtitual principles and neglect our day-to-day duties. His point is that, if we are ever to glorify Christ and the Church in our marriages, we must start by individually, daily, loving our spouses. Only then we ever hope to reflect the greater image that marriage points to.
I believe Paul would say the same to us today in relation to our churches. "Yes," he'd say, "by all means be Kingdom-minded. By all means, seek to build up the universal Church. Nevertheless, let each one of your in particular love your flawed, human, local church. Only then can you ever hope to truly build up the Church and the Kingdom."