Community is a word that is spoken often in the church but its true meaning and what it looks like in the everyday lives of believers is rather ill defined. Community is often thought to be an average Sunday morning spent singing in the same building with other believers and maybe if you know them well enough, invite them to lunch. This type of community allows us walk away feeling like we’ve accomplished out Christian duty. We showed up, shook a few hands, asked people how they are and let them know “We’re doing good!” This is not what community is though. Going through the motions of Christian community without investment does not benefit your own spiritual health and, more importantly is does not glorify God. God didn’t design our souls to thrive alone. If He did, He wouldn’t have established the church.
Community carries you. Mark 2:1-5 tells the story of the paralytic man whose friends found the home where Jesus was teaching, and broke through the roof to lower him down to Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the man his sins were forgiven. Sometimes hands need to be held for a person to go to the cross. It’s scary to recognize your sins and need for a savior, but a loved one standing with you, encouraging you towards Jesus is sometimes all the push you need. I remember on many occasions a friend holding my hand and saying “you need to take this to the Lord.” That is a perfect example of bearing one another’s burdens. The thing to be aware of is that confession and repentance is between you and the Lord, but being encouraged towards it and having a friend pray with you is a comfort.
Community keeps you accountable. The people you live your life with know your strengths and weaknesses mostly through observation, but when you open up about your struggles, insecurities, doubts, and temptations, then you have just won a brother that will keep you accountable. When a brother is caught in sin, his friend is to rebuke him lovingly. If the brother refuses correction and does not repent, then the friend should come back to him with elders and continue to pursue his friend in loving correction (Matthew 18:15-16). I can attest that I would not have been pulled from certain sins if a dear friend hadn’t corrected me and pointed me towards Christ. It takes a teachable spirit and a heart that can be humbled for both parties. It’s just as difficult for someone to rebuke a person they love as it is for someone to be rebuked.
Now there comes a time when keeping a brother accountable becomes loving. In the following verses of Matthew 18, when a brother continues to refuse correction and repentance, he must be cut off. This unfortunately seems to be the verse that is grazed over or forgotten. There is no limit to God’s grace but there are consequences for a stubborn spirit. It is crucial that this verse is understood. If a brother is caught in sin, rebuked, and then refuses to repent, he must be disciplined by removal from any leadership position he is in, and be placed under limitations on his involvement in service. This does not mean he is cut off from the church. Paul’s example is to treat that brother as a tax collector or a Gentile which were the most hated people in their culture, but if you remember correctly, Jesus’ fellowship with the tax collectors and the gentiles daily. They were never cut off at the source. We treat these brothers and sisters with the same grace, love, and humility that we would an unbeliever.
If a brother is caught in sin, is rebuked, and repents then you celebrate with him, and continue to pray for him. We are all sinners and all need to repent, its only when we refuse to turn away from our sin and run to Jesus that our community must lovingly protect us and the rest of the community but limiting us.
Community is there to love and disciple you. The bible charges us as Christians to love and honor each other. There are countless verses that talk about love. After all, Jesus himself is love and as believers we are charged to imitate Christ which means to act and walk in love.
1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, 2 and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.
Just as Christ loved and accepted people into his community, so should we. We’re all broken sinners born into this broken world and ripped apart by our culture screaming at us about who we should be, what we should look like, what will fulfill us, and make us happy. God however, established an escape and a healing from all of that. He established the church to love and accept those broken sinners and show them where joy will truly be found.
Its happens far too often that Christians turn their nose up at non-believers, new believers, and even long time followers of Christ simply because their life looks dirty. But that’s the beauty of community, our lives are meant to be dirty so that we can point each other to Christ to be purified. Yes, it is uncomfortable to be surrounded by people that differ from your beliefs but that’s where Jesus comes in.
Jesus surrounded himself with people that were the dirtiest outcasts the world had ever known, and if you think they didn’t still act like the dirtiest of outcasts while in His presence, then you’re lying to yourself. They were still vulgar, they still talked about their partying lifestyle and sexual immorality, they still swore, they still blasphemed, spewed racist comments, and were abusive towards each other. They still lied, drank, and lusted. They were still human. But Jesus didn’t remove himself from the situation, he sat there and shared his joy and his love with them.
Jesus would disciple these people by opening up a community that was appealing and allowed them to come as they were. He told them about love and forgiveness and as those people saw how they were loved, they grew towards loving others and their lifestyles began to change.
Our goal as the Church is to develop the same community that Christ facilitated where all are welcome and all are loved. Outsiders should be drawn in by the joy and love shared among those fellowshipping in the body. It’s not our job to change people’s lifestyle, but it is our job to share Jesus with them and trust that God will soften their hearts for a life change.
I leave you with this as an encouragement, that community takes effort and sacrifice, but is specifically designed for the human soul to grow. It’s hard to build an environment to nourish community but making a few changes in your on life will kick start the process. When someone asks how you are, give them a straight answer and don’t opt out to say “good!”. Tell people what you’re struggling with and share all good things the Lord has been doing in your life. Be vulnerable, let people see your heart, show your humanity. Let go of your pride and take on a teachable spirit. When you correct a brother, do so in love. Allow your life to be open so that people can see your joy and will be drawn to you in conversation. Show kindness and pursue others in friendship. By doing this, not only will develop a solid foundation for Christian community, but you will also begin to see your own life change and find that your spiritual walk is easier when shared, not in seclusion or just simply going through the motions.