From the beginning it has been evident that God designed man to live in community – to be with and cooperate with other people. The only negative regarding creation was spoken by God in reference to man being alone.
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
Having made woman for man we are told that “…a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). From this shared life of husband and wife comes the larger community of family, and from the perspective of Biblical history, tribe and nation.
God promised Abraham that he would make of his descendants a great nation – a nation made up of families and tribes. Abraham was to be a blessing to the world through his family and through the nation that would come from him.
“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2).
No doubt he was a blessing to those whom he had dealings with, but as a nation – a community of people who were extensions of his faith and goodness he could be a blessing to many, many more.
Yet there is much more than common genetic heritage that makes a community. There are many different definitions of community. Here is one that almost sounds Biblical.
Community is a way of relating to other persons as brothers and sisters who share a common origin, a common dignity, and a common destiny. Community involves learning to live in terms of an interconnected “we” more than an isolated “I’. It involves making choices which reinforce the experience of relatedness and foster the sense of belonging and interdependence. Community begins, but does not end, in our face to face relationships with the persons who are closest to us. (from Making Life Choices by Margaret Betz).
One of the first things Jesus did when He began His personal ministry was to call disciples whom He referred to as “friends” and emphasized the mutuality of that relationship.
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15).
For three years these friends were together with Him. They went where He went, they ate wit Him, they listened as he taught and watched as He performed miracles in service to hurting human beings. They observed His compassion, His faithfulness to the Father and his patience with weak and fallible human beings. He became to them the pattern for the community they would form and lead in the years ahead. The common life of the church must be modeled after the example of the Son of God.
In speaking of the state of the Gentiles before becoming Christians, Paul uses a related word in Ephesians 2:12 – “commonwealth.” The word means “common good.” In ordinary usage, a commonwealth is a political entity (state, nation) that is established for the “common good” or “welfare” of the citizens. In Paul’s usage of the term he refers to the fact that the Gentiles were, before Christ came and before their conversion, not citizens of God’s chosen nation and therefore not entitled to the benefits that accrue to its citizens. But since He came and they had believed in Him, they were entitled to share equally in all the blessings and responsibilities of that relationship they were now in.
Biblically speaking, God’s people are referred to as a family, the household of God, a royal nation and a body. All of these terms convey something of the relatedness and interconnection of Christians in relationship to one another.
As the family of God, we are related by blood – the blood of Christ by which we have been redeemed and in which we have been washed. We also are the family of God because He is the source and sustainer of our being and the one from whom we have cohesiveness and direction.
The household of God again emphasizes the family aspect of our relationship. As the family of God, we bear kinship with all others who are children of God. We do not get to pick and choose those with whom we will be in relationship. God does that and we must accept it – and not merely accept it intellectually, but practically as well. A household is a functional entity. We must function as an interrelated, interdependent family with members helping one another and relying on one another.
Again, as the body the thought is of the interconnectedness and interdependency of each part. There is diversity within any body – all the parts and organs of the body have their respective functions – but each is necessary for the completeness of the body.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5; See also: 1Corinthians 10:16-17; 1Corinthians 12:12-15).
There are no “lone ranger” Christians. We are meant to live in close association with other Christians. From the earliest days of the church, Christians are observed in closeness in all aspects of their lives. They ate their meals together, shared their homes and their property with those who were in need. They met together, prayed together, listened to the apostles together and observed the Lord’s Supper together. They assembled together to encourage and strengthen one another. They lovingly rebuked and gently and meekly corrected one another as the need arose. They rejoiced with one another when there was reason to rejoice and they wept with one another when others wept. They combined their money to send relief to the poor and to support the preaching of the gospel. They shared their lives with one another through their love for one another – a love that came from their mutual faith in the Savior. They diligently worked together toward the spreading of the gospel.
They were not members of an institution, bound by organizational by-laws – they were brought together (added) by the Lord when they were forgiven of their sins. They were members of one another and bound to one another by mutual love and by their love for the Lord.
This does not mean that people lose their individuality when they become Christians. We relate to other Christians as individuals. Romans 12 is an excellent illustration of how this works.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5).
As individuals we use our God-given gifts to the benefit of the whole body. That is what they were given to us for. (See: Romans 12:6-8). In these verses Paul mentions some of the gifts God gives and in the remainder of the chapter and on into the 15th chapter he tells us how those gifts are supposed to work.
May we realize the full benefits of being a part of the community of true believers, no matter what metaphor we may use to describe it. And the benefits of being a part of such a community are many. If there were no blessings to being in a collective of believers God would not have put us together in the church to begin with.