Occasionally, a Christian who has fallen away and is approached by a concerned elder, preacher, or other Christian will respond by saying the people at church were cold, unfriendly, or unwelcoming. They complain that they get the “cold shoulder” from the folks in the congregation. Could most of us try harder to reach out to each other, as well as our visitors? Undoubtedly! Of course, all of us know that this is a pretty flimsy excuse for forsaking the One who suffered and agonized for each of us in order to make heaven a possibility for us or the One who provides us with such abundant blessings throughout every day.
However, the Bible does seem to show us a pretty clear case of a new Christian who dealt with the collective cold shoulder of the very first congregation of the Lord’s church. In fact, he also knew that those from his former religion were trying to kill him. Suffice it to say, he faced some enormous pressures and adversities as the result of his obeying the gospel of Christ. As he lived out the rest of his life, he suffered a lot just for teaching and preaching Christ, like being stoned, shipwrecked, scourged, slandered, and scrutinized. People questioned and doubted him. He did jail time. But in his early days while still a new convert, he felt the effects of the cold shoulder. The Bible says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). Imagine trying to place membership at a local church and having people avoid you, doubt your conversion, and rebuff your attempts to fellowship them. That would be devastating. Would you continue worshipping at a place like that? Saul did. How did he warm up the cold shoulder?
First, he had help (Acts 9:27). Thank God for people like Barnabas, whom the Bible calls “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). He intervened. He took the new Christian under his wings and brought him more into the fellowship of God’s people. God always needs and makes use of willing Barnabases who will help those on the outside looking in to “come inside” more fully.
Second, he spent time with the leadership (Acts 9:27b). Barnabas takes Saul to the apostles. So far as we know, churches at this time were not yet organized with elders. The apostles were the first leaders in that first church. Saul got to know them, and they got to know him. Luke, in Acts 9:28, simply says Saul “was with them.” God’s leaders are a crucial part of integrating those feeling the chill of the cold shoulder.
Finally, he proved his worth as a Christian (Acts 9:28-29). He was active. He reached out. He was involved. For Saul, that meant speaking boldly in Jesus’ name and defending His word. There is absolutely no proof that Saul ever lamented or complained about how the Jerusalem Christians were treating him. He just got busy. What was the effect of that? The first time Saul has a need, “when the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out toTarsus” (Acts 9:30). They reached out to him.
Ever think you see a spot of frost or icicle on the shoulder of a brother or sister in Christ? Consider several things. First, you may be “reading” him or her wrong. Second, they may be carrying some huge burdens that effect both their countenance and their demeanor. Further, even if you are right and are experiencing a Frigidaire moment from the faithful, remember the warmth of God’s love. It’s His church, part of His eternal plan, to which you have been added. He will never give you the cold shoulder. Then, remember Saul. Even if you don’t have a Barnabas, reach out to your elders. No matter what, remember that you serve the Lord and for that reason must keep your shoulder warm!