Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. For those of us who live in America (or who have been brought up in the American sphere of influence), these three traits are synonymous with having a good life. We view them as our inalienable rights and often pursue them with great vigor and enthusiasm. And why not? Don’t we all want to be happy? Shouldn’t we desire liberty and freedom in all things? And aren’t these characteristics what it takes to live a full life?
Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, there’s something a little more insidious going on when we, even as Christians, make these pursuits our ultimate goal. One of the outcomes of this chasing is that our faith eventually becomes very internalized and narrow. The Way becomes a one-man show. Well, a one-man and one-God show. It’s me and Jesus. As long as He and I are cool, that’s all that matters.
The trouble with this approach to the Christian life is that it doesn’t take into account the full picture offered in Scripture. We are meant to have a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, it’s true. I can’t be saved through your faith in Christ any more than you can be saved through mine.
But we are supposed to pursue that relationship within the framework of a life lived in community. This concept runs throughout the Word, from the foundations of the Earth as know it to the first beginnings of the Church.
Community begins with gathering together and preaching the Gospel. But that’s just the start.
Going all the way back to Genesis, the creation of the first community occurs when God creates Eve. He observes Adam’s solitude on earth and comments, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Though we know that Adam walked with God, there is something more that the Creator meant for him in the formation of Eve. He didn’t intend for Adam to walk alone on the earth. Even in the mysterious concept of the Trinity, there is some mystical sense of God being in community with Himself. He is not solitary, but Father, Son and Spirit together.
We see this thread of community throughout the Word from this point on. The salvation of Noah and his children from the flood, the blessing of descendants to Abraham, the calling of Israel as a nation…the list goes on and on. Take the formation of the Church in Acts. The image presented in Acts 2 is a profound picture of just how deep and important this idea of faith lived in community is to God.
Check out this description:
“So then, those who had received his [Peter's] word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
What a radical image! Community begins with gathering together and preaching the Gospel. But that’s just the start; it doesn’t end there. Apparently these early believers also ate together on a regular basis. They talked about what God had been teaching them. They shared their property, their possessions…all of it paled in comparison with the joy of fellowship together.
What would that community look like today? Oh sure, we have our church buildings and we have our Sunday services, but what would it look like to truly have “all things in common…sharing them with all as anyone might have need?” I have to admit that I’m not sure how that would function in today’s world. We’re so individualistic and focused on our own ends that it’s tough to envision.
Something about the Gospel was compelling enough to move these believers to constant fellowship.
But based on the description, something about the Gospel was compelling enough to move these believers to constant fellowship. Community was tantamount. And look at what happened as a result: God brought more people into the fold!
In a day and age characterized by the total pursuit of those American ideals, how powerful would it be to show our society a different way? There is something about the commitment and passion that those believers showed to each other and to God that would be earthshaking for our culture.
In fact, Jesus even promises it to us when He instructs, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). People will naturally be drawn to the love we show each other in community.
Read the passage from Acts again (this time from the Message) and meditate on how God might be calling you into a committed relationship with His community.
Let the warmth and joy of these words wash over your soul:
“That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe–all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
It takes practice and discipline to live together like this. It’s not easy. We’re broken people. There’s stuff about me that would annoy you to no end if we hung out on a regular basis and I can guarantee that you’ve got quirks that would tick me off over time. But the grace of God and the moving of the Spirit completely overwhelm such petty things in the long run.
So how about it? How are you going to live in community with your brothers and sisters?
–by Jeremy Hunt