Why don’t people go to church? I did a quick google search on this topic, what I found is that one reason was in the top 1 or 2 of almost everyone’s list: People are afraid of being judged by church people.
Unfortunately, this is a reality. The church over the years has earned this reputation and created an atmosphere that gives legitimacy to the concern. Now, I don’t believe every church is full of judgmental people, but almost every church has some.
Several years ago, Central Films posted the following video. Not only does it address why people don’t go to church but provides honest answers why someone should connect with a church.
I believe that solution for the church to the reasons people have for not being connected to a church is found in Jesus’ most famous sermon in Matthew 5-7. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus casts His vision for the Kingdom of God on earth. Many have said it is a pie in the sky, unrealistic and unattainable lifestyle. To answer that criticism I would use Jesus’ own words, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Jesus’ intro into His vision cast is a list of Kingdom priorities in Matthew 5:1-16. Let me share with you my summary of these priorities: Humility, Self-Control, Hunger for God, Compassion, Availability to God, Reconciliation, and Commitment. He follows this list with a clear purpose for our life is to be an agent of change (we are salt & light) in the world to bring His Kingdom to others.
In verses 17-20, Jesus creates a tension for His hearers. The religious elite had been stirring up the people by accusing Jesus of trying to eliminate the Law and religious rules that they had used to set up a standard of religious righteousness. But Jesus says that is the wrong question to be concerned about.
Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (emphasis added).
The real question is “If the religious elite can’t get into heaven, do I even have a chance?” At this point Jesus has the audience. They want to know the answer to this question. The answer Jesus gives is simple. He re-defines righteousness: righteousness is NOT right behavior. Righteousness is getting relationships right.
Through the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus shares both Old Testament Law and standard religious rules and shows that the real problem is not our behavior. Our real struggle is in the heart! The Law was designed to show us our inability to live up to God’s life standards. It revealed our need for God. The religious elite had added their own rules to it to control people with guilt and shame.
Righteousness is NOT right behavior. Righteousness IS getting relationships right.
Jesus demonstrates that it is not our behavior that we should be concerned about but our heart. Ultimately, it is our relationship with God that can transform our heart which then overflows into our behavior. But along the way, our relationships with others can also change our behavior. When we love God and others, we will become less about ourselves and more about them.
In verses 21-47, Jesus gives specific examples of God’s commands and the religious rules and shows the heart issue behind each one. Let me give a quick summary:
You have heard it said: “Do not murder…” But I tell you: “Do not be angry…” The Heart Issue: Loving one another is more important than being right
You have heard it said: “Do not commit adultery…” But I tell you: “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully…” The Heart Issue: Relational purity is a matter of the heart
You have heard it said: “Do not break your oath…” But I tell you: “Do not swear an oath…” The Heart Issue: Trust in a relationship is built on integrity
You have heard it said: “An eye for an eye…” But I tell you: “…Turn the other cheek…” The Heart Issue: Love is generous not greedy
You have heard it said: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy…” But I tell you: “Love your enemies…” The Heart Issue: Love is a gift you give, not a response that is earned
People have misinterpreted these statements and used them to hurt and control others. There is a significant difference between forgiveness & love and submission & trust. We can come to a place of forgiveness and have genuine love for a person without submitting to their abuse or trusting them to value us. Right relationships depend on two people. God is only concerned with your heart which will determine your behavior.
Let me wrap this up. God created us for relationships, an intimate relationship with Him and varying degrees of relationships with others. Look at the Ten Commandments. The first four deal with our relationship with God. The last six cover our relationships with others.