As I read Tim Keller this morning on “the church,” it dovetailed quite easily into Thanksgiving for the local body of believers I call family, and home. I pray it helps you to offer gratitude for your church family as you read, and as you gather together with them this coming Sunday morning. Before we get to Keller though, hear from the Psalmist who was the inspiration for his musings:
A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
2 And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
4 All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
5 Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
6 Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
7 O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
“May you have peace.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.
(Holy Bible: New Living Translation)
Those attending the annual festivals approached Jerusalem with joy (verse 1). They loved the city and prayed for its flourishing (verses 6-7). What Jerusalem was to the ancient Jews the church is to believers in Christ. When we come to faith in Christ, we become citizens in the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24; Philippians 3:20). The manifestation of that heavenly (and future) city is the counterculture of the Christian church, a society where the world can see human life lived according to God’s will. Through the [good news of the kingdom of God], different races and nations are “closely compacted together” (verse 3; cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). People who would never get along outside the church love one another inside it. We must joyfully seek out the church; the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. (Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus, p. 328)
I think Keller is on to something here from the Psalmist when he writes, “What Jerusalem was to the ancient Jews the church is to believers in Christ.” So that the call to “prayer for Jerusalem” as a call to prayer for all that was representative of Judaism, now, for the Christian, becomes not a call to prayer for a physical place, but to prayer for the peace and prosperity of the people of God who make up the church of Christ. Which should move us to pray Keller’s helpful prayer:
Father, I praise you for what the church could be — an alternative human society that shows the world your glory. But I confess I am part of what the church is, a flawed community far from reflecting your character. Give me understanding and the love I need to become part of the solution, not the problem.