Last night I was fortunate to break bread and fellowship with old friends. We grew up together in church – went on mission trips, served together in Lay Renewal weekends, went to retreats, were in Sunday School and Training Union together. It was such a sweet few hours that reminded me of sweet times in junior high and high school. We did catch up on our lives over the last 35+ years, but we had a lot of conversations about “remember when”. We were friends, we were family, we were a community. For me, I will just say that in looking and talking with everyone there, my heart was so full of love. Community is a gift God offers to pour love out on us all. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad; So does the sweetness of a friend’s counsel that comes from the heart.” (Proverbs 27:9)
Christian community is simply sharing a common life in Christ. The biblical ideal of community challenges us instead to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God. We know all too well that maturity takes time. We know less well that it also takes our sisters and brothers in Christ. It’s a process that is revealed in the “each other” language of the New Testament: Love one another, forgive each other, regard each other more highly than yourselves. Teach and correct each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and bear each other’s burdens. Be friends with one another, kind, compassionate, and generous in hospitality. Serve one another and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This list just scratches the surface, but it is enough to remind us that we need the community of faith to grow up in Christ.
One of the most important ways the community helps us is by embodying Christ’s continuing presence on earth. When my brothers and sisters love and accept me, I feel Christ’s love, too. When I confess my sin and they forgive me, I know that God forgives me, too. When they pray for my brokenness, I know that they are sharing in the healing work of Jesus. In our dog-eat-dog, enemies-with their teeth-bared world, when we feel the crush of hostility and of our own failures, to have our Christian community surround us with compassion and encouragement lightens our loads, strengthens us, and gives us the courage to keep on trying.
The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.
When we imagine that we, as Christians and humans, can live in total independence and self-sufficiency, we are deluding ourselves. God, from the beginning, never intended that we should go through the world “alone.” We simply cannot experience fully the power and delight of life with God without also being drawn into life together with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Without experiencing such life together, we will not discover how wonderful the news about Jesus really is.
A journey should never be judged by the destination or mode of transportation. It should be judged by the friends who accompany us on the trip. – Jim Stovall “The Ultimate Journey”
- NIV Study Bible
- Community: God’s Design For Growth