By Andrew Dempsey
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” - Genesis 1:26
Here we see, in the very first chapter of the Bible, God speaking into existence the human race. Yet, from this one declarative sentence, we are able to glean an incredible amount of information about the nature of both God and humanity. The word “us” here is incredibly important, because it is the first reference to the three persons of the Godhead, or what is more commonly known as The Trinity. So what does this have to do with community? This means that since community is not just something that God likes but something that he is, living in community is not just a task or mandate given to us by God, rather, it is woven into us as part of our very essence as humans. Think of it as part of our pre-installed operating system. We have been created with an innate need and desire to live in community with other people. God knew this when he said that is was not good for Adam to be alone, so he gave him a community. We all have felt the desire and longing to have deep, meaningful community with other people. The problem with trying to find deep and meaningful community with other people is, in fact...people.
The first human community, Adam and Eve, functioned perfectly. They never fought, argued, or lied to each other. Everything they did was in perfect harmony with God and with each other. The Hebrew word for that perfect harmony is “Shalom”. So what happened?…Sin happened. Once sin entered the equation everything changed. That perfect harmony immediately turned to discord, blame-shifting, lying, and distrust. Once their vertical harmony with God was destroyed, so went their horizontal harmony with it. This is what we have inherited.
Deep down, we all feel it.
The thing about it is, we are more connected to each other now than ever before in history. We are able to connect with more people in more ways than one would have thought possible just 30 years ago. But, what we must remember is that connectivity does not equal community. In fact, I believe that our over-connectivity can actually be one of the biggest hindrances to deep, meaningful community, because it allows us to hide. Think about it, though social media definitely has legitimate and beneficial uses, what we largely see are each other’s highlight reels. Filtered pictures and edited statuses allow us to control what others see about us. We become our own PR firm. This leaves us with a false sense of community that is shallow and does not provide for us what true community is designed to give.
But social media isn’t the only arena that yields shallow community. There are a vast number of ways that we organize ourselves into “communities”- social status, life stage, common hobbies, etc- and all of these are but a shell of what scripture tells us true community should be. Why? Because if any of these things changes or goes away, so does our community. They are all built upon the wrong foundation.
Paul speaks to this idea in Ephesians chapter 2:
"13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
Here scripture is telling us that what connects us as believers is the reality that we are all very broken, messed up people who have been rescued and given new life in Christ. This is our rallying cry. This is what unites us. If anything other than the person and work of Jesus becomes the foundation for our community as believers, it will quickly crumble under the weight of self-justification, pride, or the blowing winds of life’s circumstances. The temporary things of this world have their appropriate place, but if we are to live in the fullness of what Christ has saved us to, we must have Christ and his grace as the foundation for our community. And not only is Christ to be the foundation for our community, this very same grace is to also be what propels us on and fuels our community.
Philippians 1:27 says that we are to “Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
When it comes to community, we tend to drift to one of two extremes: dependence or independence. Unhealthy dependence- when we find our identity, security, and worth in someone else- is a form of idolatry. Unhealthy independence is a foolish attempt to live an isolated faith, wrongly believing that the Christian life can be sustained simply by our own strength and performance. Not only are these two extremes unhealthy, they are also un-Biblical.
The Biblical idea of community, fueled by the gospel, will be one of “side by side” interdependence- one where it’s members understand that they all stand on equal ground before God, sinners rescued and saved by a gracious God, given new life in Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit as a helper and a guarantee of our inheritance to come.
So let us live out this “side by side” calling. Standing firm on our foundation of the person and work of Jesus Christ, fueled by his Grace, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Let us press on and run the race together for God’s glory and our joy. Let us spur each other on to good works that overflow out of changed hearts. Let us bear each other’s burdens as brothers and sisters adopted into the family of God. Let us preach the Gospel, first to ourselves, then to each other continually, to remind us what is of first importance. Let us, standing shoulder to shoulder, invade our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us feast on the Word of God together to nourish our souls with the Bread of Life.
A community founded on and fueled by the Gospel is one that has the power to change lives. Not because of it’s members, but because of it’s foundation and it’s fuel - the Gospel.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” -Philippians 2:1-5
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