These past months have flipped many things in our life upside down. Much has changed in the way we go about our daily lives— everything from work to school, from shopping to doctor’s visits, and from gathering with friends to gathering for worship. In all these changes, many of us have realized things we took for granted. Even more, we’ve realized what is important, what matters most, what we truly need.
One of the things we need most is church community— friendship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As our interactions with one another have been limited, as we’ve changed how and where and when we gather, we are reminded anew just how much we need the body of Christ. That’s because God made us to be in community.
Created for Community
Community is God’s idea. He is a community in Himself: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Triune community has existed for all eternity past—loving, serving, exalting, and glorifying one another. When God created mankind, He chose to share that community with us so that we could experience the love and fellowship God has always known.
Genesis 1:26 tells us that God created mankind in His image. One of the ways we reflect God is by being in community with others. That’s why God said that one thing was missing in His creation (Genesis 2:18). He created Eve to live in community with Adam, and together they would reflect the Triune community. And they did so, until they fell into sin and broke community with God and each other.
Jesus came to redeem and restore us back into right relationship with God and one another. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus created a new community: the Church. This new community is made up of redeemed saints, who, by faith, are adopted into the family of God. The Church is a family, and we are all children of God, making the relationships we have with one another even closer than our biological relationships. “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2nd Corinthians 6:18).
The Greek word koinonia is used in the New Testament to refer to the new relationship formed among believers united in Christ. It is most often written as “fellowship” in our Bibles. When the early Church met together, Luke tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Often when we think of fellowship in the church, we think of Wednesday night spaghetti dinner in the church fellowship hall. Or we might think of the time between Sunday school and worship where we stand around with our coffee and catch up on each other’s week. The fellowship described in the New Testament goes deeper than chatting over a cup of coffee. It’s more than talking with others about our travel schedule for work this coming week or the latest remarkable thing our child did, or about the outcome of the big game. It’s more than joining a small group or serving on a committee.
The fellowship that the Bible describes in Acts is that of sharing a common life together. As Jerry Bridges noted in his book. True Community:
“The first Christians of Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship—a relationship that consisted of sharing together the very life of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They understood that they had entered this relationship by faith in Jesus Christ, not by joining an organization. And they realized that their fellowship with God logically brought them into fellowship with one another. Through their union with Christ, they were formed into a spiritual organic community.”[i]
Cultivating Spiritual Friendships in the Church
Sharing a common life together is not about doing activities, but about sharing spiritual life. It is about working together to bring about God’s kingdom purposes. It is about serving together, helping each other through trials, reminding each other of the gospel, lifting each other up when we fall, praying for one another, and urging one another on in the faith. And ultimately, it is reflecting Christ in our love for one another, reflecting Him to the fallen world around us.
God is the One who creates Christian community, but we need to cultivate it. We need to foster and nurture it in our churches. Certainly, we can drink coffee together, participate in a fun event, or enjoy one another’s company, but those activities are merely the means to community; they aren’t community in themselves. Below are a few ways to cultivate community—spiritual friendship—in the church.
Cultivate Friendship through Service
Christian community involves meeting each other’s needs. In Acts 2, the believers shared what they had with each other. Peter tells us to use our gifts to serve one another (1st Peter 4:10). We can cultivate community by ministering to one another’s needs. One of the easiest ways is to provide meals for those who are sick, recovering from surgery, just had a baby, or moved into a new home. We can mow the yard for a widow or repair a leaking faucet. We can provide transportation for those who need it. In serving one another, we show the love of Christ to our brothers and sisters in the Church.
Cultivate Friendship through Spiritual Encouragement
Christian community involves spiritual encouragement. Hebrews calls us to encourage one another in the faith (3:13, 10:24). Rather than telling someone we will pray for them, we can stop right where we are and pray with our brother or sister in the Lord. We can remind a hurting friend of God’s great love for him in Christ. We can be open and honest with others about our struggles, doubts, and temptations to sin, helping others see that we are all sinners saved by grace; not one of us has it all together. We can share with and encourage one another the encouragement we’ve received from the Lord (2nd Corinthians 1:3-7).
Cultivate Friendship through Hospitality
1st Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” One of the best ways to cultivate community is in our homes. The home is where we are most ourselves. It is a warm, intimate setting where we can share spiritual life with one another. This aspect of friendship has been most challenged during the pandemic. We’ve had to get creative in hospitality by eating outside and having small gatherings. But no matter how limited, as we feast together on bread that nourishes our physical body, we rejoice together over the Bread of Life who nourishes our very soul.
Cultivate Friendship through Discipleship
Spiritual friendship is also cultivated in the context of discipleship. The best description of this in the Bible is in Titus 2 where both older men and older women are called to mentor and instruct younger men and women (respectively) in how to live out the gospel. Such relationships are more than mere biblical instruction; it is investing in another’s spiritual life. It is an older believer helping a younger believer apply the gospel to all areas of life.
Though God created community through the blood of Christ, we need to cultivate it. It takes work and effort. We have to invite people into our hearts and lives. Let us all strive to live out the community Christ died to create. Let us seek to develop spiritual friendship with others in the body of Christ.
[i] Bridges, Jerry. True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012), p.10-11.