Is the life of faith one which is to be lived in isolation or in community? Well if you said community, ding ding, you have the correct answer. There are many of books which are floating around at present which tell us this. Why is that the case? Well across the bible we see that God in his wisdom has established human relationships and communities as the normal environment for human flourishing.
From the establishment of the people of God in the Old Testament the call is one of belonging; both to God as his treasured possession and also to each other as fellow recipients of the salvation of God (Ex 19:4-6). As the narrative of God’s saving purposes continues the arrival and sacrifice of Christ produces a community which turns the world upside down, quite literally (Acts 17:6). Why is this the case?
Well, there are numerous reasons for this and time doesn’t permit to focus in on all of them. However, I do want us to think about just one of the reasons for this. These people knew that the gospel changed lives. The first believers understood that the life of discipleship in Christ was not just intellectually correct but that it was pastorally applicable to every area of their existence. And how did this work itself out? it worked itself out in community.
I want to take you to a section which is often misrepresented or forgotten about. The believers in 1 John 4 are being encouraged to remember that because of what Jesus has done God does love them and there is assurance of salvation. What is striking is how John moves on. He explains that in such a community fear should not be present. For John, fear in the fellowship is only present because the believers expect punishment or punitive reaction from others.
Is that not something which is striking? What does John say? This should not be what characterises the body of believers, there should be a loving openness which is founded in the fullness of the work of God in Christ which drives out all fear (1 John 4:18a). Sadly though is this the experience of believers across churches in Scotland today? Too often the experience is not openness to share sin and to seek loving guidance, correction and support.
Love for the brothers and sisters in community is vital. We have a problem though; we don’t trust each other because we don’t really live in community with each other. As believers in western nations become increasingly isolated and individualistic there is no real forum which exists for honest confession of sin and genuine love to build someone up. We need to wake up to this otherwise there will be many more people who, inwardly are desperate to confess there deepest struggles, but outwardly do not know where the correct environment to do this is because the people of God care more about the golf and the bake off than purity in discipleship.
You’re correct, community is key. How are we helping to create communities where honesty about our shortcomings are not abnormal and where lives are transformed by the gospel of Jesus in all it’s fullness?