We need community. And I think most people would tell you they want community.
But very few people actually have it, even within the church.
It’s easy to get caught up in wondering why that is, and jump straight to how to fix it. But if we do that, there’s a good chance we’ll miss the point altogether.
Instead, it’s best to start by examining the foundation for community, because the foundation makes all the difference.
So let’s jump in and see what God would tell us about community:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This text tells us three things about community:
- Its foundation
- Its nature
- Its importance
1. Community’s foundation
First, its foundation. Verse 23 says “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” What hope do we profess?
The Church professes the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That man is sinful and in need of a savior, and that God, in His mercy, sent that savior in the form of the man Jesus Christ. And that man died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, taking our place and receiving God’s judgment despite living a sinless life.
The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23 that,
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
All of us. Each of us have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.
And because of that, we stand convicted before a holy God, who by his very nature has to carry out justice. And He does.
“God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’”
Hearing that you’re a sinner is hard to take. It doesn’t feel good to be told that you rebel against God every day, even in the deepest recesses of your heart.
But not only is this God’s truth that’s revealed to us in Scripture, it’s the reality we see and feel every day.
Each of us has an inner sense of right and wrong that was etched in our hearts by God when He created us. Now, you can say instead that you determine what is right and wrong for yourself, but as soon as you do you can find an example that proves you wrong.
For example, if you think right and wrong depends on the person, that each person gets to decide what is right and wrong for themselves, then what do you do with genocide? Is that wrong, or is just up to the person? What about slavery?
These things are wrong. Of course they are. And that sense travels across cultures and time.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and we are in need of a savior because aa sinful person cannot save themselves from sin.
The God that is righteous and just is also merciful and loving and personal. And because of His love for us, He sent His Son Jesus to step in front of us and take the blame for our sin.
He sent the Savior we needed to make the sacrifice we could not make.
And when Jesus died on the cross and atoned for our sins, paid for our sins, it became possible to enter into a saving relationship with the God of the universe.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
If you’re a Christian, this is your reality.
Imagine this: when you stand before God to give an account of your life, He has a book filled with details of your life. Your good deeds and bad. Your thoughts and desires. Your action and inaction.
And if you’re like me, that’s not good. You know what comes next because you know what you deserve.
But, just as He’s about to bring down the gavel to condemn you for the sins you’ve committed, someone grabs His arm and stops him. God turns to his right to see who dared to grab him, and it’s Jesus.
And Jesus says, “No. I know them. They are sinful, yes, but they believed. Here – take my book instead.”
And God opens Jesus’ book and sees His sinless life and His righteousness instead of your sinful life and your unrighteousness.
That is the hope we profess. That is the gospel we proclaim.
And it’s the foundation for Christian community that we hold unswervingly to. Because God is faithful, and He will save those who call on His name.
2. Community’s nature
If that’s the foundation for community, let’s turn and look at the nature of community.
Community is an interesting topic today. We live in an ironic time where, as researchers have observed, we’re more connected than ever, but more lonely than ever.
Stephen Marche, writing in The Atlantic, put it this way:
“We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment… Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.”
Hear me on this, Twitter and Instagram and email are not necessarily bad things. But when they become our sole source of community this is the kind of society we are left with.
But it’s not just about technology. It’s about our schedules and how we live our lives.
Marche goes on to say that today,
“We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years… By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.”
If that’s true, then only 1 out of every 4 of you has someone you can talk to in your life about those things that are most important.
This reality is devastating to our mental, spiritual and even physical health.
The funny thing about all of this is that we seem to know that how we’re living is not good for us. We seem to know that living life less connected to each other, though it seems far easier, is actually far worse for us. So why do we do it to ourselves?
Later in that same article came the haunting conclusion that,
“We are lonely because we want to be lonely. We have made ourselves lonely.”
We spend more time in front of screens and less time in front of people. We live further and further from where we work and spend our time. We search for what we think is freedom, and end up with isolation.
I’ve seen this in my own life. I can go a whole day, relatively easily, without having any real interactions with people. And it’s easier that way.
But when I do that, I always feel worse. I always feel drained, lonely, like my day was a waste.
That is not the nature of community that God created us for. Look back at verse 24, which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
In a biblically functioning community, in a healthy community, people will be spurring one another on towards love and good deeds, and, like it says in verse 25, encouraging one another.
The word “spur” is interesting, because when you read it in this context it sounds pleasant, doesn’t it? It really means “to incite,” or “irritate”. To spur one another on means to bring sharp disagreements before someone. It’s uncomfortable, even irritating.
If you have a brother or sister, you know that they figure out very quickly how to push each other’s buttons, right? They know exactly how to poke and prod and get their siblings to lose their cool.
That’s what spurring one another on means, except in this case it’s being used in the positive sense, not the negative.
So in Christian community we are to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. We are to push each other’s buttons in such a way that it makes us more loving and more apt to do good deeds.
It means that sometimes we come to sharp disagreements with each other when we’re living in such a way that it is not in line with the hope that we profess.
Which means we have to actually have people in our lives that we grant permission to do such a thing. Have you ever thought about that?
Do you have people in your life that you’ve granted permission to call you out when you’re being out of line according to how God tells us to live?
Do you have people in your life who can come to you honestly and give you good advice when they know you’re about to make a terrible mistake, or make a decision that will be hurtful to you in some way?
And what about encouragement?
Do you have people in your life that are there to encourage you when you’re down? That are there to encourage you not to give up and to be there to build you up? People to celebrate good times and grieve bad times?
If so, then rejoice! If not, then there’s reason for hope.
Because Christian community is not something we have to manufacture. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, said,
“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
Rejoice that community in Christ is not something you have to do on your own; it is something you simply need to participate in.
The nature of community as expressed in the Bible is one in which we have people in our lives that come alongside us to challenge and encourage us, and where we look for ways to do those things for others. It’s not something we have to realize, but a reality we get to participate in.
3. Community’s importance
We’ve seen community’s foundation and its nature. Now let’s look at its importance.
Why does verse 25 tell us “not to give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”? Why is meeting together so important?
Well in order to do what we’ve been told in the earlier verses, spurring one another on in love and good deeds and encouraging one another, we have to be meeting with each other.
We have to be putting ourselves in situations where that kind of community is possible. We have to make space for it, otherwise it simply won’t happen.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 and 11 say,
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work…
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
When Jesus called people to follow him, he also called them into the community he was building, which gathers as the Church.
Throughout history, people have thought they could be a Christian on their own, growing spiritually while isolating themselves from the Church and the people in it. One of those people was C.S. Lewis, the guy who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, but he eventually changed his mind.
Listen to what he said about this:
“When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches… I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in boots…in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”
Being in community with others keeps you honest about your spiritual life, while putting you in a context where you can serve others. Both go against our natural grain, but both are spiritual realities we’re called to.
I want to make sure and spell out that simply going to church on the weekend does not constitute the kind of community we’re talking about here. Sitting in a service doesn’t make space for spurring one another on or for encouraging one another.
Those things take place outside of that context, while still taking place under the umbrella of the church. They take place in groups that meet in homes, classes that meet at a church, teams that serve in a community.
Each of these kinds of things puts you in front of others in a way that creates the possibility for biblical community and are vital for your spiritual growth.
C.S. Lewis sums this up well. He said,
“[God] works on us in all sorts of ways… He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences…But above all, He works on us through each other.
Men are mirrors…of Christ to other men…That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important….”
The community of the church is rooted in the gospel, and that gospel is the hope we profess and the hope we hold onto. When the people of the church are living that way they’ll be spurring one another on to love and good deeds. They won’t be isolated and trying to be a Christian on their own. They’ll be joined with other Christians who are coming alongside them to encourage them.