Jesus words to Saul/Paul in Acts 9, and repeated again in Acts 22 and Acts 26, are evidently important because Luke records them three times. Paul is blinded by a bright light and he hears a voice. Jesus identifies himself and asks, ‘why are you persecuting me?’
Whatever else we may want to say about this, it carries at least one major implication. Saul was not arresting the person of Jesus, he was busy rounding up Jesus’ followers and bringing them back to Jerusalem for punishment. As far as Saul was concerned, Jesus was out of the picture altogether. As far as Jesus was concerned, Saul’s persecution of Jesus’ followers was Saul persecuting Jesus himself. By his union with his people, attacking Jesus’ people is attacking Jesus.
This link is fairly well attested. Most want to apply it to those who from outside who wish to persecute the church. That is certainly a legitimate application but it is not, I want to suggest, the primary implication for the church. It is true that those who attack the church are attacking Christ and the church may take comfort in that. But the broader implication is that whatever anyone does to the church is done to Christ. If Christ is unified to his people, then what one does to his people is what one is doing to Christ. How one treats his people is how one is treating Christ. This is the clear implication of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 25:40.
Jesus’ words to Paul have far wider-reaching ramifications than how Jesus views the persecution of his people. It has clear implications for how the Lord’s people treat one another. It similarly has implications for how the Lord’s people treat the Lord’s stuff.
If we cannot be bothered to get out of bed to get to church on Sunday morning, we are not just failing to bother spending time with God’s people but we are spurning Christ himself. When we have no interest in serving and caring for the Lord’s people, we are failing to care for the Lord. When we drop the ball on stuff in church and put upon others, we are spurning the Lord and saying there are other things that take precedence over him.
If Jesus’ words to Saul tell us that those who persecute the church are persecuting Christ, it also tells us that how we treat the church is how we treat Christ. If we never go to church, if we constantly go away for the weekend, if we never serve, if we find anything else to do, these are not just holding the church in low esteem, it is treating Christ lightly and a direct reflection on our views of him.
By contrast, a high view of the church is a high view of Christ. If the church becomes a high priority, Christ is a high priority. Serving the people of the church is a measure of our love for Christ. Serving in the ministries of the church is a measure of our love for Christ. Turning up at weekly worship and engaging with the Lord’s people is a measure of our love for Christ.
Your love for Jesus is seen in your love for the church. It is on this ground that meaningful church discipline is rightly enacted. If treatment of the church is a measure of our love for Christ, treating the church with contempt suggests a level of contempt for Christ. If you hold Christ in contempt, it is hard to credibly keep you in membership of the church.
What does your love for the church say about your love for Christ?