A GUEST BLOG BY CORRINA JENNINGS
In the church, we often have a language all our own – a sort of “Christian-ese” kind of speech – insider lingo that means nothing to most everyone else, and dangerously stops being meaningful to even us if we aren’t careful. We churchy-types will pepper our sentences with scripture snacks and trite religious sounding phrases like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window,” or, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
This kind of triteness dumbs down the gospel of Jesus Christ and causes us to miss the actual truth of Scripture, because it is buried so far down inside a tweet-able quote. As ministers of the gospel, we have a responsibility to be intentional with our speech. Our words should be weighty and well-chosen.
One phrase we often hear Christians say is that we are called to be the “hands and feet of Jesus.
But, what does that even mean?
For me, it conjures up the idea of an army of church members in orange vests picking up litter on the highway (you know…with our actual hands) or marching in a protest for justice (you know…with our actual feet) or doing some tangible act to correct injustice and heal society’s ills. Sometimes, it actually does mean all of that, but we have complicated it. And worse, we’ve buried the truth that’s at the heart of this phrase – so much so that we may not even know what it even means.
The phrase has its roots in I Corinthians 12:27, “For we are members of His body.” Stop for a minute and think about that. Wow – we have been grafted into the body of the Perfect One – the very embodiment of LOVE itself – we are now part of that. What a responsibility! You see, if I am to be “the hands and feet of Jesus” then I should probably begin by knowing what Jesus did with his actual hands and feet.
Answer: He loved.
Being the “hands and feet” of Jesus simply means communicating the love of Christ to the people he created. You don’t need to fix all of society’s problems. You don’t necessarily need to wage a culture war for justice as you see it. You just need to love people.
“This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other." John 13:35
Simple, right? So how DO we love people?
Dr. Gary Chapman, Ph.D (Philosophy) M.A (anthropology) wrote an entire book about how to speak the language of love practically within the context of human relationships. You’ve probably heard of his book, The Five Love Languages. In the book, Dr. Chapman lays out five areas of interaction that can help you demonstrate love to those you care about. His primary frame of reference was marital relationships, but the research about how humans feel loved and valued transcends relational boundaries. So, for simplicity’s sake, let’s use Chapman’s five languages as our reference guide.
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
So how do we apply this to the church? Let’s do a love check, shall we?
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION – When was the last time you spoke words of affirmation to those in your sphere of influence? Have you told your boss or employee how much you appreciate him or her? Have you spoken encouraging words to the person working to serve you in a minimum wage manual labor or retail job? Have you spoken life to a single mother and told her how amazing she is and what a good job she is doing?
QUALITY TIME – “The great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”― Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
Giving our money is an important way to show love, but time is a rarer and often more precious gift of love. When was the last time you spent actual time with people – people who needed love? I mean, really - ate a meal or enjoyed conversation with them? Jesus dined with sinners, beggars, lepers, AND his friends. He spent TIME with them. When you give your time to people, you demonstrate love to them.
GIFTS – Giving gifts is a universally understood and MISunderstood way of showing love. Gifts can be interpreted as superficial, but when they are thoughtful or sacrificial, they communicate love in a very real way. Jesus gave the most extravagant gift of all – Himself. Scripture tells us that wherever our treasure is, our heart will also be. So, being a radical gift giver in the name of Jesus is most definitely a way to embody His love. Think about your money and your material things. Can you bless someone else with it this week? Can you give a gift that costs you something – for no other reason than to communicate love to someone? Groceries for a struggling family? Baby supplies for a young family? The gift of a date night for a young couple? Maybe the Lord is laying on your heart to give an extravagant gift to someone – a car or a house or something crazy. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide, and ask God for wisdom to let HIS love flow through you – for HIS glory!
ACTS OF SERVICE – Sometimes, the basest act can have the most profound impact. Jesus taught us this when he humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples. Be in the practice of looking for ways to serve others. Ask the Lord daily, “Who can I serve today?” It might surprise you, but He ALWAYS answers that prayer. Perhaps you can wash someone’s car? Trim the neighbor’s hedge or clean their trash cans out for them? Look for simple ways to go the extra mile, for no other reason than love.
PHYSICAL TOUCH - In our oversexualized culture, this can be a sticky area. We are going to assume that your heart in this is to always be relationally appropriate, so we can get to the point, okay?
The truth is that God created humans with a desire and a biological NEED for physical affection, and this is not limited to a sexual context. Scripture is full of references to the power of holy touch, and science reinforces this biblical truth. When we shake hands, hug or stretch our arm out across a friend’s shoulder, the body releases neurological chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin that feel good and it inhibits chemicals that cause stress.
But touch doesn’t just feel good; it is vital to being human. When babies and children are deprived of touch, their brain development is permanently impaired, hampering their social abilities and resulting in lower intelligence. Our bodies were created for touch and our lives literally depend on it.
Imagine if the church took a high view of the body as designed by God for intimate physical touch – what would that look like? Reaching out across the sanctuary to link arms after communion? Healing prayers offered with anointing oil and warm physical touch? A community of friends gathering to cuddle NICU infants or give manicures or pedicures at the retired living community? What about holding the hand of a sick or dying church member or offering a hug to a worn out stressed mama? Physical affection offered to the most marginalized of our society can be a particularly poignant way to demonstrate the power of God’s love. Our physical bodies are a conduit of God’s warm, inviting, intimate and comfortable presence in this cold, stark world and maybe, just maybe, the most powerful tools we have to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” are our actual hands and feet.