1 Thessalonians 5:1, ‘Therefore encourage one another and build up each other.’
Lately, Jono and I have been wondering and discussing what it means to really be ‘community’. We have been wondering how we can build up and maintain a sense of community within the places we go to, like the village of Shivakala, where we go to meet with widows.
Community is something we all want. Isn’t it? Well we having been asking ourselves some questions, questions like, 'what is the ‘glue’ that holds the village together?' We even asked a group 78 widows, 'Is there really any 'glue' that holds the people in this village together? Or, is the glue missing?'
No matter how we are differently made as individuals, whether we are an introvert, extrovert, whether we are social or unsocial, there is something in us that makes our soul long for meaningful friendships with those around us. Something is in all of us all that knows the importance of building community; through serving one another, seeking peace and unity with one another and, there is something so vital in the power of encouraging and strengthening the links we have holding us all together.
Maybe we just need to find out what glue is the stickiest and re-apply the glue?
You see, we long to know others and be known by them. Don't we? We all treasure relationships that allow us to truly be ourselves. It is possible that some of us have never found this sort of community before and, others may have been deeply wounded by relationships. The thing is, the desire that all of us still long for deep inside is genuine relationships and real community.
How did we get this way? Why do we crave for these things? The Bible answers that question by explaining that we are created in the image of God and God created us for community. More importantly why is it so difficult to be a part of community?
1 Thessalonians 5:1, we see two things; that encouragement and building one another up is not something that comes naturally, Paul had to instruct the people to do it. Also we see that encouragement is not something that is unnecessary or unimportant. But why is encouragement important? Why is it worth us all investing our time and effort into community?
Created for Community – In the Bible, it talks about the Trinity. The Trinity means that God himself is in community. More accurately, God is community, He is One God but three persons. Before any human being existed, there was God, dwelling in perfect, loving harmony in his threefold being.
God says in Genesis 1:26, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ Human beings are made in the image of God, to reflect His likeness. That is why our longing for community seems so deep.
So if deep community is something that we all want, if it is a part of being made in God’s image, then what makes it so hard to be a part of? What keeps us from achieving the type of meaningful relationships that God has created us for?
The Fall: Broken Community – If you think for a second about the nature of your relationships, you may quickly see something else, something a little darker. It is the tendency to use people to meet your own needs first. It is not hard to see how often we are self-focused, pursuing our own needs and interest and protecting ourselves from people and relationships that demand too much. For example, think of the times that you have intentionally avoided someone who bothers you. Or the times you’ve said what people want to hear in order to avoid offending them. Or the times you’ve stopped pursuing certain friends because they were no longer of use to you. Or even the times you have clung to unhealthy or bad relationships to avoid the feeling of being alone.
Our inherent selfishness is evidence of what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ When we hear the word sin, we tend to think of bad behaviour. But sin can be deeper that external actions. The Bible often talks about the term ‘unbelief’. In other words, rather than believing what is true, we believe lies, which obviously then leads to bad behaviour and negative emotions. Unbelief was at the root of the first sin. Eve, in Genesis, believed the serpent’s lies about God and his intentions towards them. Unbelief is failure to see and believe what is true about God, the world and ourselves. It is not taking God at His word, not believing his promises and not trusting his goodness.
And sin’s impact is not just that we don’t believe, it’s that we are unable to believe. Sin has turned everything upside down and it has warped our relationships with others. We need someone to deliver us from our unbelief and selfishness and restore our capacity for true, deep, lasting community.
Redeemed for Community - This is where the good news of the gospel meets us. The word gospel literally means ‘good news’ – a message, a proclamation, an announcement. Before there is good news, there is usually bad news. The bad news here, is that we are sinful people, we are broken. We are rebels against God. We are covered in lies and self-worship and we look to other things than God to give us provision, identity and significance. We can’t free ourselves, make God happy with us, or do enough good works to make up for all our sins. But God, rich in mercy, sent Jesus to earth as our substitute. Jesus took our place in his life as he obeyed God fully and worshipped Him, totally, things we have failed and continue to fail to do. He substituted himself for us in his death, as he paid the penalty we owed to God for our sin and unbelief. If we humble ourselves, acknowledge of need and turn to him, God and Holy Spirit will forgive us and allow us to be freed from our sin because of what Jesus did on this earth for us. The Bible calls this redemption, a word that means to be ‘delivered, ransomed and set free.’
What does Jesus redeem from us? Well he redeems sin and all its effects. A life that images God and reflects His goodness to the world. He will restore our capacity and ability for community. Not for a community of people that look and act just like us, but a community that is made up of every tribe and tongue and nation on earth (Revelation 7:9). God created us for community and Jesus redeemed us for community.
If Jesus redeems us for community, then why is community such hard work? Why are relationships still filled with brokenness, even among people that call themselves Christians? This is the reality of the world we live in isn’t it? Building and enjoying healthy community is going to require us to believe the gospel, to believe that what Jesus did for us has power and relevance for the way we relate to God and others. This requires an intentional focus on our part. It means identifying the unbelief in our hearts that hinders the ability to love and serve others and to receive love from them in turn. It means receiving the healing, liberating truths of the gospel in ways that allow them to soak deep into the core of our being. And guess where the works of ongoing transformation takes place? In the community.
Community is also the primary context for mission. Our outward focus as believers. God wants us to use our communities, messy and broken as they are, to draw others into his story and introduce them to Jesus. It is about us becoming more like Jesus, showing love to one another, serving each other and it’s about people that don’t know Jesus coming to know him as Saviour and Lord.
We are created for community. We are redeemed for community and we are transformed in community.
Here are some Bible verses that we have been challenged by recently, perhaps they'd help us be better at community:
Hebrews 10:24-25, ‘And let us consider how we can spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing , but encouraging one another.’
John 15:12 ‘Love one another, as I have loved you.’
Luke 6:31, ‘And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.’
Proverbs 12:26, ‘One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbour, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.’
Deuteronomy 16:17, ‘Every man shall give as he is able, according you the blessing of the LORD which HE has given you.’
Ephesians 4:29-32, ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits for the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by who you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’
Hebrews 13:16, ‘And do not forget to do good and to share with other, for such sacrifices please God.’
Colossians 3:12-14, ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all things put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’