Indeed, most of these are the sorts of things that can only be done alone. And the entire thrust of scripture is toward community.
Yes, yes, yes, we should all have a personal relationship with Jesus, but we should also have a community relationship with Jesus. Indeed, God created Adam and Eve. The only thing God made that he declared “not good” was that it was “not good” that Adam be alone!
When God began his covenant with Abraham, he promised him a family and nation — not an aggregate of unconnected, lonely individuals. He called Abraham’s family into community.
Therefore, under Moses, Israel became a nation of tribes and families. God pursued his redemptive plan through a multi-million person family (Amos 3:1-2; Micah 2:3).
When Jesus came to earth, he gathered around him a community of disciples, whom he called “friends” (John 15:15).
These disciples then built a church in Jerusalem of thousands of members. They were called the “household” of God, a “royal nation,” even a “body.”
Ahh … “body” is profound word. The church is the “body” of Christ. Why does Christ need a body? Didn’t God already given him a resurrection body? Yes, right, but that body is in heaven awaiting the Second Coming.
Therefore, the body of Christ — the church — is Christ’s body on earth — a second incarnation. The church — as community — is Christ on earth. We do his work. He also works by other means, but he mainly works using the body he left behind — us.
Now, every time the Scriptures refer to the church as Christ’s body, the point is our mutual dependence –
(Rom 12:4-5 ESV) 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
(1Co 10:16-17 ESV) 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
(1Co 12:12-15 ESV) 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
Therefore, while the individual disciplines are good things – some are even essential — they simply are not Christianity par excellence. Indeed, their value is very limited unless they ultimately support our participation in the community of faith.
You see, to be in the image of God is to be in community. God exists in community — singular and plural all at once in the Trinity. We should be the same — united and individuals at the same time, and never just one.
We should not lose ourselves in community. That is, God has given us gifts and talents that must offer to the community as individuals. God has made us unique and wonderful in different ways. We should not disappear.
But our gifts and talents are only fully realized in community.
(Rom 12:4-8 ESV) 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Each gift that Paul mentions is only useful in community. We cannot serve without someone else to serve. We can’t exhort ourselves. We can’t lead all alone. We are gifted to serve others.
Therefore, Paul focuses the rest of chapter 12 entirely on love for each other. After 11 chapters on high theology, Paul boils it all down to love in community.
(Rom 12:9-21 ESV) 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This is about how to get along with our brothers and sisters in church. Not entirely, but almost entirely. We’ve been given grace so that we’ll show one another grace by loving each other in radical and remarkable ways.
Chapter 13 continues the focus on love for our neighbors, and then chapter 14 shows us how to be gracious to those who are in the church but disagree with us on some issue. The lesson continues in chapter 15.
In the greatest theological treatise of all time, the incredible epistle of Romans, Paul says not a word about how to worship, how to organize, what name to use … He spends four out of 16 chapters on how to get along so we can stay united.
That tells you Paul’s priorities.
Turn now to the Sermon on the Mount –
After the Beatitudes and some comments on the Law, Jesus begins a series of exhortations that continue to the end of the sermon. This section begins –
(Mat 5:21-22 ESV) 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
What’s his point? Well, you’ve not honored the Law of Moses if you can’t get along. Don’t dehumanize your brother by calling him names.
(Mat 5:23-24 ESV) 23 “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Again, the point is to get along, and one step is to seek reconciliation. Reconciliation within the household of faith is more important than worship!
(Mat 5:28-29 ESV) 28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
Do not objectify women! They’re people, God’s daughters, and not sex objects. You can’t get along with women if you see them as bodies rather than people.
Do you see? The most important sermon ever preached — the centerpiece of the Bible — is all about how to get along as a community of believers.
As great as the individual disciplines are, Bible study and meditation won’t mean much if they don’t result in getting along.
We don’t solve our problems at church by separating ourselves from all those difficult, annoying, troubling people. Rather, we pursue them.
Here’s the hard part –
(Mat 5:44-48 ESV) 44 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We’re supposed to be like God, you see, and that means being good to those who hate us. Even the unjust.
Therefore, if someone calls us hateful names, we do not retaliate. At all. If someone rebuffs our efforts at reconciliation, we forgive them anyway. If a woman prefers to be objectified, presenting herself to the world as a sex object, we refuse her permission and instead see er as a daughter of God.
And these are the skills that build a church. And they make converts into disciples. And disciples — real disciples — change the world. After all, if this became standard behavior, wouldn’t we be close to Eden already?