Right from Genesis chapter 2, when God says, “It is not good for man to be alone,” the Bible makes it clear that we were made for community. As I write in July 2020, many people are beginning to show the effects of social isolation as we try to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19 by keeping apart. A lack of community brings upon us a kind of stress and anxiety which we long to escape. Intuitively, we know that we were made for community.
We also know we are made for community because we are made in the image of God. God himself— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— shares community within himself, as he has and as he will, for all eternity. At the heart of the universe is a loving community which Jesus prays we will ultimately join: “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:21)
The Bible provides us with a rich resource of wisdom and commentary on a wide range of relationships – husbands and wives, parents and children, close friends, not so close friends, governments, and even enemies. It doesn’t fill in all the details, but it does paint a picture of what our lives can look like when the love of God is accepted and then reciprocated – back to God, and into each other.
The Bible also doesn’t shy away from what can result when there is a refusal to accept or reciprocate that love. It gives us plenty of examples of what not to do, which is why some of the scripture makes for sad and often difficult reading. It never tries to paint a glossy, overly simplistic picture of our natural ability to do relationships well. Instead, the challenges – infidelity, family dysfunction, competition and conflict between friends and leaders – are included all in the messy detail.
And yet, fortunately, community is not limited to our social prowess or our ability to make our relationships work. The story of the gospel is that Jesus came and formed community with us. The Message puts it well in John 1: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.” He lived among us and he modelled true community to us.
Love. Patience. Kindness. Faithfulness. All of these are necessary for healthy community; and they are fruits (working evidence) of the Spirit. But that doesn’t mean they are easy. Community can be hard: people are often unlovely. They hold us up. They let us down. They act in ways that are unpredictable and less than Christlike. Worse than that, they provoke us to act in ways that are unpredictable and less than Christlike! That’s humbling, even humiliating, at times.
Community is one of the greatest blessings and challenges of the gospel. If we are to grow, it will be together. It is not individuals, but rather the church united, that is called to incarnate Christ to the world. Our culture militates against this by insisting that we find our true humanness as consumers and celebrities and autonomous individuals. In the face of this, Jesus endorses our need for each other. More than that, he endorses Christian community as his Spirit-empowered agent in the world.
During this month of August, each week, we are going to give disciplined thought to living in Christian community. Click on the links below for each week.