We went to Alaska a few years ago to visit relatives. Our cousins asked what we wanted to do during our visit.
I immediately piped up, “Hiking!”
They talked about a few nearby trails, casually mentioning a recent bear attack.
“A bear attack?” I asked in a raised high-pitched voice. “Never mind, we don’t need to go hiking…”
One of the cousins responded, “We’ll be fine. The person who was attacked was out by herself. We’ll be safe because we are together.”
Created for Community
Do you ever think that life would be easier if we could do it on our own? Relationships are messy, complicated, hurtful, and more often than not, frustrating. The more complicated the relationship, the more appealing is leading a solitary life. But as the poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
In fact, it’s not by accident that we are “part of the main” rather than individual islands bobbing our way through life. God created us to be in community. It was His idea from the beginning. Prior to the book of Genesis, before Adam and Eve, before creation and the Fall of mankind, the Triune God existed. And God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—lived together for all eternity past as a community in perfect love, harmony, and unity. And we were created to reflect that eternal Three-in-One community.
When God first made man, He said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). God created mankind to be image-bearers, to reflect Him in this world. One of the ways we reflect God is by being in community with others. That’s why after God had created the world, the animals, and Adam, He said that one thing wasn’t good: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). It wasn’t enough that Adam had fellowship with the members of the Godhead. As an image bearer, Adam needed another human to reflect the community of God with Him. God created Eve out of the rib of Adam, forming the first human community.
The Church Community
Adam and Eve enjoyed fellowship and community with one another and with God in the Garden. Until the day they sinned. As soon as they took a bite of the fruit, they fell into sin and all their descendants after them. They were expelled from the Garden and the presence of God. Adam and Eve broke community with God and each other. Their relationship with each other changed from one of intimacy, honesty, and harmony to one of conflict blame, manipulation, lies, and distrust. This is the community experience into which we are all born.
But it’s not the end of the story. Jesus Christ came to redeem and restore what happened in the Fall. He was the One promised as our first parents exited the Garden (Genesis 3:15). He came to create a new community of redeemed and rescued sinners through His life, death, and resurrection. Through faith in Christ’s work for us, we have been adopted into the family of God and are children of the Father. We are united to Christ and grafted into the family tree, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). We are one of the promised children of Abraham, one of the countless stars in the sky, a grain of sand on the seashore that together makes up the people of God.
The New Testament calls this new community “the church.” It often uses familial terms to describe the relationships between the members of the church. “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18). “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). This means that the men and women in our churches are our brothers and sisters. Rather than sharing a bond of blood as we do with biological family members, our bond is the blood of Christ. It is a spiritual bond that transcends time and space, making our relationships with others in the church eternal.
A Transformational Community
Not only did God create us to be in community with Him and with others, but He also uses the community of faith to change us into the likeness of Christ. The Christian community is transformational. God uses our relationships with one another to encourage, equip, instruct, disciple, train, and provide for our needs. After all, we need each other.
First, the Christian community helps one another: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). We help and serve one another by sharing our goods, our time, and our expertise. We share meals, repair what’s broken, watch children, lend a car, and even provide shelter. We help pay bills and meet one another’s needs. Helping our brothers and sisters in Christ isn’t simply a nice thing to do. It’s not just a good deed done out of the kindness of our heart. It’s a natural overflow of our connection to one another in Christ—originating in our union with Christ Himself.
The Christian community is also a discipleship community. Though the Bible doesn’t use the word “discipleship,” it does talk about disciples and the making of disciples. Christ commanded in Mathew 28:19-20 that believers go into the world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them all that Christ commanded. While discipleship begins at conversion, it doesn’t end there. It is a long-term event that takes place over the course of a person’s life. It is also relational as we speak the gospel to one another, helping each other apply it in all areas of our lives. Titus 2 gives us specific commands on what discipleship should look like in the church.
In Romans 12:15, Paul instructed us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Because believers are united to Christ and one another, when someone weeps, we feel their sorrow as if it were our own. Likewise, when someone has reason to rejoice, we rejoice along with them. The Christian community is both a lamenting and rejoicing community. We weep and wail and sit in the dust and ashes with one another during seasons of loss and grief. We lament because we know that life is not as it should be. But we also rejoice in one another’s blessings and the goodness of God in the midst of the pains of life.
Lastly, we also grow together in community. Paul wrote that the church “will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:15-16). We are united as a body with Christ as our Head. As we use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given to His people, we help the Church grow, spread, and impact the world for Christ. Each of us has different gifts, and not one is more important than another. Some are up front, and others are more behind the scenes, but each member’s gift is crucial to the function of the church. God uses each one of us working together to build His Kingdom.
Just as I learned in Alaska, we need each other. We need community. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ. God made His people that way, and He uses each of them for good in each other’s lives.