Consider the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and his disciples:
Mark 5:1–15 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind …
The church of Jesus Christ should be a body of mercy and grace. Disciples of Christ should leave their sacred communes and pour out themselves, their wisdom, their spiritual gifts, their finances, and their Gospel upon the poor and hurting in their neighborhoods. They should not seek those who deserve such love, but those who have not, can not, and will not help themselves. They should be engaged in “mercy ministry” that seeks to grace those who do not deserve such benefits. And Christ’s church should be hungry to express this mercy and grace to whosoever — regardless of the nature or severity of their particular transgressions. Respected pharisees, prodigal sons, and demon possessed maniacs should all be targeted for love by the merciful and gracious church of Jesus Christ.
The church of Jesus Christ should be a body of healing and improvement. As the church expresses Christ’s unconditional and unearned mercy and grace, it must love people by refusing to leave them in the deplorable condition in which they are found. Those in debt are discipled to be organized, less materialistic, more industrious, and self-controlled. Those addicted to substances are loved, encouraged, discipled, disciplined, held accountable, and encouraged to walk in freedom from the sin which held them in bondage. Those engaged in licentious hedonism are guided through proper repentance which always includes a change of heart and practice. Those who are lonely are engulfed in fellowship. Those who are depressed are encouraged to hope by their brothers and sisters. Those who are ignorant are educated. In the church, those abused find safety. And through the prayer meeting and the laying on of hands, those who are sick often find physical healing from Christ. In the church of Christ, people come as they are, but they are not allowed to remain unchanged in the pews.
Friends. such a church is winsome and beautiful. A congregation like this resembles a city on a hill. This sort of church family is a blessing to the neighborhood. Happy should be the city filled with such active and Christ-like congregations. Therefore, let us ask ourselves the question, “If our church we were to leave our city, would our neighbors wail and lament our departure?” If not. perhaps there is a problem with our ecclesiastical assembly. Perhaps we are only interested in building a church for “good” and “healthy” people who “deserve” a safe and enjoyable place to worship. Perhaps we are more like a country club than a mission outpost. Perhaps we are more like a cruise ship than a floating hospital. Perhaps we are not as interested in mercy, grace, healing, and improvement as we ought. Perhaps we are not as much like our Owner and Founder as we think. Fellow disciples of Christ, let us leave the commune and find the sinful maniacs who wander throughout our city. Who knows, perhaps when Christ is done with them they will be “clothed and in their right mind” and begging to learn more of Christ and his kingdom.
However, there is a third attribute of the faithful church that might be discovered from this passage:
Mark 5:16–19 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Despite her loving intent, the church of Jesus Christ should expect to be a body hated by many. Christ was merciful, gracious, and eager to heal and improve. The Savior was full of unconditional love; he was winsome and beautiful. However, despite his unmatched charity and glorious work, he was despised and rejected. His Gospel got in the way of a certain group’s preferred lifestyle, and so he was deemed undesirable. In the end, while one begged to be in his presence, many more pleaded with him to hit the road.
Therefore friends, despite our beautiful and winsome outreach; despite our unconditional mercy, grace, and desire to improve; despite our striving to live at peace with all men; the church of Jesus Christ should expect to be despised and rejected as was our Leader. We will carry his cross and drink of us cup. Many will be the enemies of the church who shows mercy and grace while expecting healing and improvement. What can we expect? Through our various ministries, many will experience the Gospel and beg to enter the household of faith, while others will find Christ’s laws too restrictive and beg us to leave town and never return.